Excerpt for Stranded in a Foreign Land by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Unknown Visitors 1


by

Vincent Berg

Reviews

Amazon.com: (4.7 stars)


Yannick Serres:


I started this series with the 2nd book! I loved this one just as the other. I got to say I'm not a fan of sci-fi, but I'm a fan of Vincent.

Josh, the main character, is a strong man with good intentions. He's not looking to be a hero, but maybe will he be only by fighting for what he thinks is the best to do.

I'm always having a nice time reading Vincent's books, because the stories is easy to follow and the intrigue is always good.

I can't wait to read the other books of Mr Berg.


Stuart: (rated for the previous edition)


Absolutely loved it, enough that I read it again a month later! Hope that there is a sequel.

I found the story to be uplifting, something I really appreciate these days. As as science fiction story goes, it has some nice twists and wrinkles.

Yea Vincent, another winner!!


Ernest Bywater:


Good story, but love the character development. I actually read this book some months back, but only just joined Goodreads and made this entry.
In all his books, Vincent Berg, intermixes plots and sub-plots like a master carpet weaver. I don't always like some of the places he goes with his stories, but they're always good stories.


S.S. Johnson:


A good read – it wasn’t at all what I expected. Recommended!


G.G.:


To be honest, I had been looking for a story like this one, where the aliens aren't your usual invader kind. It's always refreshing to discover little jewels like these. Don't take me wrong, I wouldn’t call this book, perfect, but it's original and quite entertaining, and that is what I wanted. There were a few strange uses of participle clauses but while it made me smile at times, it didn't prevent me from enjoying the tale. Now, on a side note, the book I bought and read is an out of print edition. There is a new edition out, which has a beautiful and much-improved cover.

I liked Josh, the main character. He was loyal to his ideals and never once hesitated to do what he thought was best. His views of the government were dark and scary but sadly true (at least for this story).

Overall, I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone, who like me, loves friendly aliens no matter how they look like.


Paul: (received a free copy of this book from Goodreads)


Overall, I enjoyed this book, which was something of a departure from my usual genres of reading.

Initially, I found it a bit slow to get going, but,although sceptical by nature as to the likelihood of the events described, it did hold my attention whilst waiting for the plot to develop. Although a certain suspension of disbelief may be required by some, the plot did get going and although the main character initially lacked a little credibility for me, I did find myself becoming engaged with the storyline and speculating as to what was going to happen next.

Although never having given much thought to government conspiracy theories, the story was ultimately credible, although I felt the book could have been a little shorter without losing any of its appeal.

A good read.


William T:

Copyright

Stranded in a Foreign Land

Copyright © 2014 Vincent Berg, All right reserved.

Smashwords Edition

ISBN: 978-1-941498-81-1

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

Product names, brands, and other trademarks referred to within this book are the property of their respective trademark holders. Unless otherwise specified, no association between the author and any trademark holder is expressed or implied. Nor does it express any endorsement by them, or of them. Use of a term in this book should not be regarded as affecting the validity of any trademark, registered trademark, or service mark.

Acknowledgements

As always, I’d like to thank all of those who’ve put up with me during the highs and lows of this story’s creation. It’s hard supporting temperamental authors, and the rewards aren’t always as clear cut as more time and attention.

I’ve got a long line of people who’ve helped with the story, but I’d like to thank:

  • Fonts: “Moonhouse à” by NimaVisual (cover and titles) and “The Last Font I’m Wasting on You” by GyakuSetsu (cover).

Title Page

Reviews

Copyright

Acknowledgements

Other Books by the Author

Prologue

01: Washed Ashore

02: A Somewhat Friendly Chat

03: Someone Call an Ambulance?

04: Technologies Old and New

05: Concerts and Steampunk Movies

06: Assistance or Hindrance

07: Self-Sacrifice for the Common Good

08: Airing Dirty Laundry

09: Understated Theatrics

10: Welcomes and Condemnations

11: A Few Detours

12: Motion Sickness

13: Waiting

14: A Long Walk in the Dead of Night

15: Final Plans and Messages

Epilogue

Preview

Character List

About the Author

Prologue

“This is your Captain; I’m ordering an immediate evacuation. Head immediately to your escape pods. You have less than five minutes before we evacuate all the air and water from the ship. Everything else onboard will be jettisoned.

“The wounded we picked up in response to our opponents’ distress call were infected with a highly contagious agent. This was clearly a planned sabotage in a desperate attempt to harm us by taking advantage of our humanitarian efforts. We’ve fled that system to prevent our ship from being captured and anyone attempting to rescue us from being infected. It appears the infection spread via the ship’s air supply—generated from our internal water—which we also fear is infected. If we ever hope to return, we must evacuate the ship.

“We jumped to an unknown system far from our normal transit routes and we’ve sent no alerts, so rescue is unlikely. We’ve broadcast a local distress call, hoping any inhabitants of this system will be genetically dissimilar enough not to be affected. Your escape pods are programmed to take you to the only hospitable planet, which does appear to contain an intelligent native population.

“We’ll be on our own from now, on a strange world with few resources. Escaping this poisoned environment may help, but the odds are against us. I hope to see anyone who survives. May God be with each and every one of you! That is all.”

“Excuse me, Mr. President,” the aide said, shifting from one foot to the other beside the bed of the most powerful man in the world.

“Err … what is it?” the president asked, opening his eyes, groping around for his glasses. “I certainly hope it’s important waking me and the First Lady up at this hour. What time is it anyway?”

“Uh, it’s three seventeen in the morning, Sir,” the aide said, checking his watch once more.

“Okay, Okay, I’m up. What is it?” The president wrestled with the sheets tangled around him and his wife.

“I think it might be better if you heard this alone and in a secure location, Sir.”

“It’s Okay. My wife can hear whatever it is.”

The aide frowned; he knew this information was critical, but he didn’t want to argue with the man responsible for determining what to do with it.

“I don’t know if there’s a need for any immediate action, but we thought you should know. There’s…,” the aide fidgeted nervously. “We’ve finally received a message from SETI, the Search for Extraterrestr—”

“Extraterrestrial Life, I know.” President Alan Atkinson rubbed sleep from his eyes and looked up at the young man. “What could they possibly report? They’ve never picked up a thing in their entire history.”

“We don’t know, Sir. We can’t decode it. It’s a short message, broadcast every four hundred and thirty-six seconds.”

“You’re telling me they actually received a response from some alien intelligence somewhere?” Atkinson asked, incredulous

“Yes, Sir.” The young aide allowed the president to adjust to this news at his own pace.

“Four hundred and thirty-six seconds, huh?” Atkinson asked, scratching his ear. “That’s certainly significant. But I can’t imagine a signal from some far-flung galaxy needing my immediate attention. I’ll sleep on it and deal with it in the morning. Do we know its origin?”

“We don’t believe it’s from a distant system. It’s too regular and the signal hasn’t degraded over time, but we haven’t been able to track it.”

“I thought that was the whole purpose of SETI, to track broadcast signals?”

“That’s correct, but it’s a strange signal. It’s a very short message, possibly a regularly repeated SOS, but we can’t pinpoint it. It covers a broad spectrum and seems to be echoing.”

“Echoing, huh? I guess the science guys will explain that to me. Here I thought nothing echoed in space. So the experts suspect it may be an SOS?”

“That’s their best guess at the moment.” The aide’s collar felt clammy from the sweat trickling down his neck. This was way above his pay grade, and if he said the wrong thing there was no telling what the fallout might be.

“Yeah, either that or a demand for our surrender,” the president said. “That wouldn’t take many words either.”

“That’s exactly why we wanted you to know, Mr. President.”

“Do you have any idea how far away the signal’s source is?”

“Since it’s so hard to track, it’s difficult to triangulate, but it appears to be very close—possibly within the solar system, Sir.”

The president’s eyes popped open. “Here?” he asked, as if there were more than one solar system under consideration. Even his wife sat up and looked at the aide.

“It’s a very strong signal, Sir; we just haven’t been able to identify it.”

“So we don’t know if it’s on the outskirts of the system, or parked on the other side of the moon?”

“Yes, Sir. Both of those are a very real possibility.” The aide swallowed hard.

“Okay, I’m getting up.” The president threw his legs over the edge of the bed. “I want you to contact other major observatories to see if there’s any more intel on this.”

“SETI has already conferred with them. They wanted to know more before they were willing to report the issue. With every step up the chain of command they’ve been sent back to reconfirm. No one wanted to disturb anyone for either an insignificant anomaly or a malfunctioning sensor.” The aide paused for a second. “The signal began fifty-seven hours ago, Sir. That’s—”

“I know how long fifty-seven hours are!” President Atkinson barked. “Two full DAYS?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Okay, check directly with the various observatories and see if they’ve noted anything else or have any other input into this.”

The president got up and the aide hurried to gather his clothing, glad to finally have something practical to do.

“Yes, Sir. What about foreign observatories or nationalities?”

“Shit! They’re likely to have received the same signals as us. Talk to the British, French, German and Swiss observatories. Set me up a connection to the leaders of those countries as well. It’s likely they won’t release anything unless it goes through their leaders first. Don’t contact anyone else. And NO press! Understand?”

“Absolutely, Sir, except … it’s not exactly restricted information. All it would take is someone tuning in to the correct frequency. And, Sir, it’s broadcasting across many different frequencies. So far it’s coming across as interference on radio, television and short wave, but if someone suspects it’s more than just ordinary static, they might figure it out.”

“Shit! Okay, put out a short press release in the morning. Say it appears there’s some sort of space anomaly—, no, that’s no good. Don’t admit ANYTHING. Just make sure SETI doesn’t release any information. Also, rein in anyone connected to this.”

The aide shuffled uneasily. “That’ll be hard to do, Sir. SETI has been crowdsourcing their data, asking the general public to review it for any anomalies.”

“Damn, shut down SETI’s communications. Claim their computers have crashed. Blame the Chinese or the Iranians. If the information isn’t available, no one can pick anything out of it.”

“Except there are astronomy labs in colleges and universities around the world; anyone there could detect this signal. Hell, if it interferes with public or private broadcasts, it won’t take long for them to discover what’s going on.”

“We can’t afford for this information to get out,” Alan stressed, speaking slowly and emphasizing each word, glaring at the aide. “It could cause panic and disrupt the entire economy. If this becomes a crisis, the last thing we need is a disorganized response. We can’t afford to let a bunch of students gossip about matters of National Security.” The president paced back and forth in his pajamas, considering it. “Issue strict instructions that no one is to publicize or even talk about it to anyone but us. Threaten them with the Patriot Act. Hell, threaten to send them to Gitmo if necessary. No one is to talk about this. Threaten to cut off all government funding, not only to their programs but to their departments, their universities and their private student loans. Make it painful enough that no one would dare whisper this information to anyone. I want all electronic communications about the topic shut down, now!”

“Yes, Sir. I’ll take care of it immediately, Sir.” The young man laid the president’s suit on the bed and quickly backed out of the room, closing the door before turning to the people outside anxiously awaiting word of President Atkinson’s response.

“Get me someone at the Pentagon, the FBI and the CIA,” he ordered. Everyone scurried away to do his bidding, but he had little chance to gloat. He knew if he screwed this up, he’d likely end up in a Gitmo prison cell along with whatever science nerds wound up there.

Another aide stepped into the room. “Mr. President, we’ve got an update on the SETI information.” He stepped out of the doorway, clutching the latest reports in his hand and waited for President Atkinson to acknowledge him.

“Good. It’s been too long since the last update.” The president turned so he was facing the aide, lowering his glasses and focusing his attention squarely on him.

“We’ve been able to locate the signal, Sir.” The young man in the perfectly tailored suit held the slim report aloft while glancing at both the president and the impressive yet familiar décor of the Oval Office. This was his first time addressing the president in this room, and while he appreciated it, it also terrified him. The formality of the room echoed the importance of his message. What he was revealing could very well change history. “The reason we couldn’t identify the source was because it’s being sent across a variety of alternating frequencies, originating from several different locations.”

“Several?” President Atkinson asked, cocking his head to the side. “What does that mean?”

The aide, Robert Finch, opened the report and raised his voice to be heard at the president’s desk. “Well…, it either means there are several sources or ‘ships’ broadcasting, or … we think it’s more likely it’s an attempt to hide their actual location.” Not having been invited in, Robert remained by the door but closed it to ensure their privacy. “But the signals originate within the Oort cloud, that’s much further than Pluto.”

“So there isn’t much chance of us reaching this ‘ship’ then?” Atkinson asked, resting his elbow on his massive oak desk.

“Sir, even if we knew where it was, it would take our fastest ship several decades to reach it.” Robert shifted from one foot to the other to ease his tension. “These are tremendous distances we’re discussing.”

“Do we know how long it would take them to reach here?” President Atkinson asked, changing the focus.

Robert cocked his head, not sure how to address the question. “No, Sir, the signals don’t seem to be moving.”

“If it’s an SOS, why don’t they broadcast from a clearly designated position where we could respond?” the president asked rhetorically, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

“Probably because they don’t know our intentions. I’d assume they’re broadcasting some sort of standard distress call, but won’t issue a specific location until we return an acceptable standardized response.”

“A reasonable supposition, however it’s important to remember it’s only a guess. We have no idea what these—I hate to say ‘people’—are thinking.”

“Understood, Sir. We’re continually monitoring for any signs of change and we have experts reviewing the information.”

“Good,” Atkinson said, putting his fingers together and glancing over them at Robert. “Now, who else knows of this?”

“Uh … you’re not going to like this, but it’s pretty much an open secret. Basically any scientifically capable government knows, and most of the Astronomy Department heads and researchers already know. However we’ve had the Pentagon, the FBI and members of the staff calling the various agencies, applying pressure to keep this under wraps. They’ve all agreed there’s to be NO press coverage of any kind concerning this news. We feel secure we can keep a lid on it for now, but we can’t limit those who already know. With so many people aware, it’s only a matter of time until someone leaks the news.”

“Damn it, I hate losing control,” the president swore, clenching his fists and staring at the young aide.

“Sir, I don’t think this was ever under our control. It’s an open broadcast to whoever is capable of listening.”

“All right. As always, keep me informed,” the president told him, effectively dismissing him with a wave of his hand, his mind already on other things.

“Yes, Sir,” the aide responded as he hurried away. While it was impressive being involved in something this major, it was nerve-racking having no control over what was playing out, and especially having no clear answers to report.

“Mr. President?” President Atkinson looked up from his economic report as yet another aide stepped forward to deliver the latest news. “There’s been a change in the mysterious broadcasts, Sir.”

Though he still didn’t have enough information to convene a national security meeting, Alan Atkinson had canceled most of his scheduled events to be better able to respond to these multiple interruptions.

“I’m listening,” he said, giving the senior aide his full attention.

“They’ve halted. Well, not completely. It’s stopped signaling constantly over a variety of channels. Now it only broadcasts on a single channel every 5.83 hours.”

“Hmmm, I wonder what that portends?” Atkinson asked, glancing at the ceiling as he pondered the question.

“We don’t know, Sir, but we believe whoever sent the signal assumed no one would acknowledge their message and set the signal to repeat for an extended period instead, possibly to save on battery life.”

“Hmmm,” Alan responded, still considering its potential implications. However the aide didn’t wait for him to figure it out on his own.

“That could be good news. It supports the SOS theory. If their ship was damaged, they might be looking to save power over a long period of time.”

“I sure hope that’s it. Any change in the basic message?”

“No, Sir, it’s the same.”

The president ran his hand through his graying temples. “And we’ve had no breakthrough in decoding it yet?”

“No, we haven’t. We assume it is being broadcast in a foreign language using an unknown encoding, so we have no idea which is message and which is formatting.”

Alan sighed. There were just too many unknowns. He knew this was the single most important incident of his entire presidency, but he didn’t have enough information to come to any conclusion about what risks they might be exposed to.

“Have we tried broadcasting anything back?”

“Yes, Sir, several locations have been broadcasting a variety of messages, including repeating the same broadcast and sending simple binary arithmetic signals. The hope is they would see we’re trying to communicate and respond with something we could use to establish communications, but so far there’s been no response of any kind. It may even be a recorded message of some kind. There may be no life forms connected with it at all.”

“That’s certainly a consoling thought, but we can’t assume it’s the case. Even if it is, we’d have to assume it’s broadcasting messages home, alerting whoever sent it. We still don’t know whether this is a request for aid or a threat. Since we have no way of responding, it would be nice to know there’s no danger of invasion, but we need to consider our options. There has to be some way to evaluate what’s happening. Is there any way to determine what’s at the source of these broadcasts?”

“I’m afraid not, Sir. The object is too far away, and it’s in a region of the sky which doesn’t reflect any light. What’s more, being in the Oort cloud, there are a large number of objects there, and without better optics we can’t differentiate between the objects we can observe.”

“Damn. Okay, keep me apprised. We already have experts working on the issue, but if anyone has any new ideas, bring it to my attention immediately, understand?”

“Yes, Sir, we’re focused on this and everyone is scrambling to come up with a solution,” the aide answered before President Atkinson turned his attention back to his daily briefings. Realizing he’d been excused, the aide left with no specific task but to report to those in the outer office how the president was handling the situation.

“Alan, we need to discuss something we really shouldn’t do here,” the Chief of Staff, Samuel White, whispered to President Atkinson during a highly publicized dinner with the Chinese Ambassador to the US. They were attempting to impress the Chinese to gain some latitude regarding the Chinese government’s responses to political dissent in their own country. As such, the president wasn’t happy being interrupted.

“Can it wait?” he asked, addressing the handsome man leaning over his shoulder, not attempting to lower his voice. “As you can see, we’re only part way through our meal, and I hate to inconvenience the ambassador and his lovely wife,” Atkinson said, pouring it on thick.

“I’m sorry, Sir, but it’s a time critical event,” Samuel stressed.

There was something in the way he said it which got Alan’s attention. Looking up at him, he tried again.

“Is this concerning Anton?” he asked, using the name of the latest boy band singing celebrity as a code word they’d devised to discuss the presence of a minor celestial body. He was a relative newcomer with a lot of clout and prestige despite his youth who was popular with young girls eager to listen to his latest message.

“It is, Sir, and you need to make a decision about him right away,” Samuel told him, smiling at the women at the table. “Otherwise you might miss the tickets for his opening night concert.” The women giggled at the idea of President Alan Atkinson attending an Anthony Anton concert, but Alan didn’t miss the reference.

“I’m sorry, but it seems I’m being called away on some pressing business,” Alan joked, standing up and placing his napkin beside his plate to show he was done. “Alas, the job of president is never finished. Sometimes one has to put one’s preferences aside to take care of important matters. But there’s a certain thirteen-year-old who’s waiting for my immediate response.”

The women giggled again at the striking contradiction in his words, but the ambassador wasn’t so easily fooled. He’d been briefed on the ‘astrological anomaly’ and had been asked to observe how the president and his staff responded. It wasn’t hard to tell this was hardly a trivial matter, and if the president was rushing out, he assumed it was because something important had happened. Not being privy to the latest intel, he only knew he had to relay the fact President Atkinson seemed ready to take some decisive action. His superiors would be interested in knowing what the Americans were up to.

Once the president left, the ambassador signaled his secretary, writing out a short message in the Chinese Wu dialect he knew no one at the dinner would be likely to decipher. He whispered a key word to her, indicating it was to be sent immediately to China using the strictest security protocols. She hurried off as the ambassador got back to laughing with the president’s wife, who like the ambassador, seemed more concerned with her missing husband than with the current table talk.

Once they’d reached a secure location a safe distance from any potential eavesdroppers, President Atkinson confronted his Chief of Staff. “Okay, what’s so important you’d interrupt a critical State Department dinner?”

“Anton’s tickets are starting to drop,” Samuel said, still keeping to the code they’d worked out ahead of time.

“No one’s listening,” Alan responded in exasperation. “Speak English. This is too important to obfuscate.”

Samuel took a deep breath, readjusting the explanation he’d planned to deliver. “We’ve observed several meteors streaking across the sky. While meteoric activity in the middle of the day is odd enough, these are even more so. There were a variety of them which appeared simultaneously, and each struck the Earth’s atmosphere at an odd angle, as if skimming the surface.”

“You think it’s the alien invasion force?” Alan asked, his brow furrowing with concern.

“It’s too small to be much of an invading force, but there’s no other reasonable explanation for it occurring at this particular time. Our guess is it’s an expedition unit, gathering information for the main force.”

“Or the aliens really were hurt in some sort of accident?”

“Then they could be seeking refuge,” Samuel acknowledged. “Either way, it’s an alien force trying to access the Earth through less than open methods. What’s more, if they were seeking aid, why not announce they were landing and pick a safe place we could watch and observe each other from. No, this seems too calculated. It’s only a few craft, they’re cleverly disguised and it just seems … disingenuous,” he concluded with a shrug, indicating he was expressing a hunch with no supporting evidence.

“How many meteors are we discussing?”

“Since they appeared so quickly and no one was actively recording it, we really don’t know. But there were at least twenty.”

“Where were they detected and where were they headed?” Alan pressed, his brow furrowing as he tried to determine just how bad the situation was.

“That’s the thing. When they first appeared over the western Pacific, visible from the coastal observatories, they burned brightly for several minutes and then completely disappeared from sight.”

“Come again? What about our satellites, radar and missile detection systems?”

“We have the best in the world, but it didn’t help. We observed the initial approach mostly because they used the friction of reentry to burn off their momentum; as soon as they’d slowed sufficiently for the friction to dissipate to less than incendiary, they vanished. None of our technology could trace them.”

“Damn! So we’ve got no clue where they were headed?”

“None whatsoever,” Samuel responded as he waited patiently for the president’s next question.

“Where were they headed before they disappeared?”

“We couldn’t tell. As I said, it appeared to be a braking action, burning off their momentum. They were only skimming the upper atmosphere, just dipping low enough to generate sufficient friction to slow them down. But once they had, there was no way to track them.”

“Shit, we’ve got to locate them! We’ve got eyes all over the globe, both commercial and military. We need to know where to look. Where’s their most likely destination?”

“It appears they’re trying to hide, using basic physics to hide in plain sight,” the Chief of Staff explained. “While our satellites can observe much of the surface of the Earth, there’s currently a major low pressure system moving eastward across the North American continent. I’d guess they’d head there, using the cloud cover to hide their motion and land undetected.”

“And just where is this low pressure system?” President Atkinson asked, unable to believe Samuel would force him to pry each and every minor detail out of him.

“Ah, that’s the thing, it’s a major system. The cloud bank covers from Canada all the way to Mexico, spanning thousands of miles. If they wanted to use it as cover they could be anywhere in it. Or, if their technology is advanced enough, we may not be able to photograph them anyway, in which case they could land anywhere. But if that were the case, I’d expect they’d head to where it’s currently night, in order to avoid being casually observed by people wandering the streets during the day. That would put them somewhere on the Asian continent.”

“Damn, we can’t let them slip away. For all we know, this could be the first wave of an invasion. If not, they hold the keys to a technology centuries ahead of ours, and we can’t afford to let it slip out of our hands.” President Alan tapped his finger against his temple, considering the situation before continuing.

“As soon as the clouds start to break up, I want all our satellites photographing the whole region. On the off chance they went to China or Russia, set one or two up to locate anything there that looks odd. And increase our electronic eavesdropping. Any suspicious comments from any foreign government or entity gets reported to us. We’ve got to get a handle on this. This could be the defining moment of my Presidency, making everything else I’ve accomplished pale into insignificance.”

“I’ll get on it then. Your staff and the various military and security people are gathered in the Situation Room. They’ve got satellite images of our target areas so you can see what we’re facing.”

“Good work. Let’s get things moving. I don’t want these … things getting away from us.”

1: Washed Ashore

Melissa Evens surveyed her kids as they ate lunch around their well-worn kitchen table. “So what are your plans for the afternoon?”

It had been another long morning of chores on the family ranch. Their day started before dawn, performing the daily chores, but the afternoons were for the extra jobs required to keep the ranch in good working order. “With these clouds moving in, we’re going to get some heavy rains. You’d better get started working the fence line. You won’t be able to dig post holes once the ground gets soaked.”

Melissa didn’t look like the typical rancher. Despite her calloused hands, the 40-year-old mother was trim, blonde and attractive. She’d helped her husband maintain the ranch, but balanced her time between ranch work and maintaining her looks for her husband, which he appreciated. Once he died of a sudden onset heart attack, she’d continued the daily beauty treatments and yoga exercises for her own sake. She also didn’t date. With just her and her kids running the ranch, she had no intention of letting some two-bit hustler take it over because he managed to woo her.

“Geez, Mom,” Josh said, waving a forkful of food as he spoke, “I can’t get much accomplished before we’ll have to stop again. I was hoping to tackle when we can do the whole thing at one time.”

Josh, short for Joshua, was a sophomore at Northern Arizona University. He wasn’t enthused about the workload on the ranch, preferring the intellectual pursuits in school. Although the school liked to stick the newer kids with the early classes, he typically woke at 7:30 AM for an 8:00 class, instead of starting work at 5:00 AM here at home.

Melissa sighed, putting her hands down on the table. “Joshua, it has to be done, and it’s better to do it when you can rather than waiting for the perfect opportunity. Which, may I remind you, never comes,” Melissa lectured her son for what felt like the thousandth time. He’d never learned to apply himself and was always looking for some excuse to shirk his duty. His sisters, on the other hand, hardly ever complained about the work, despite volunteering for much more onerous tasks than she required of Josh. “For having been raised on a ranch, you’ve never grasped the concept that work doesn’t wait for you. There are tasks to finish. You do them when they need doing, not when you feel like it.”

Josh’s 17-year-old younger sister, Janet, sneered at his response. “Josh thinks he’s too good for farm work!” Both she and her older sister, Frances, had heard this routine before. Josh was habitually unmotivated. He had to be forced to do the tasks he knew had to be completed every day, as if they simply weren’t necessary. It frustrated her, because she worked hard and applied herself. Janet knew what she wanted and was willing to do what was necessary to get there. “Not only does he dislike contributing to the family, but he’s always had a superiority complex. He thinks he’s better than everyone else,” she accused.

Despite possessing the looks to skate by on her beauty, Janet dedicated herself to getting ahead in school. She occasionally apprenticed with a local vet and planned to study veterinary medicine in college. Like her mother, she was relatively short, thin and gorgeous, but hid her beauty behind a no-nonsense pair of glasses and plain clothes. She dressed up only on special occasions, not wanting to be distracted by her high school classmates constantly hitting on her. Although she flirted with a few guys and dated sporadically, she planned to do most of her dating during college when there was a greater likelihood of finding a fellow rancher.

The accusation that Josh suffered from an insufferable attitude cut him deep to the bone. While he prided himself on his intellect and unusual friends, he’d always had trouble getting along with most people for just that reason. In this region everyone affected an ‘aw, shucks’ attitude, even though many of the people he knew were quite bright. But instead of taking pride in their intelligence, they played it down with false modesty as if ashamed of their ideas. It rankled Josh and fed into his discomfort with his life here.

Josh dropped his fork in frustration. “It’s not that it isn’t good enough for me. I can’t envision myself ranching for the rest of my life.” He swept his long sun-bleached hair out of his eyes and paused to collect himself before continuing. “I can’t picture dedicating my life to working the same dusty plot of land for the rest of my days. I’d like to accomplish something. I just don’t see myself achieving much here. I mean, there isn’t even anyone else here. They’ve all had enough sense to move away a long time ago.”

“Ha! It’s not like you’ll accomplish anything anywhere else,” Frances responded. As the eldest, she’d always taken on all the ranch’s heavy jobs, trying to impress her hard-working parents while taking care of her younger siblings. Naturally, she felt the same about her brother’s lackadaisical attitude as her mother. “You spend all your time getting high at school and running around with your friends. You’re barely passing. If you really wanted to accomplish something, you’d apply yourself. You haven’t even picked a major yet!”

“It isn’t unusual for students to be undecided about what they want to study,” Josh responded defensively. They’d fought over this same issue many times. Both sisters already had their lives planned out. Janet was studying to be a vet so she could help out on the ranch while also bringing in extra income from nearby farms. Frances, always a bit of a tom-boy, wanted to branch out, so she dove headfirst into the male-oriented world of electrical engineering. She to install a solar farm and wind generators to power the ranch, making it more self-sufficient. Everything they planned centered around helping the family’s ranch. They couldn’t comprehend that it just held no interest for Josh.

“Yes, but most students who waffle about what to do with their lives end up doing nothing,” his mother responded. “The vast majority of kids today end up achieving little, which is where I’m afraid you’re heading. It’s one thing to complain, but you’re not even making any plans.”

Josh sighed theatrically, tired of defending himself. “I’m sorry, but I haven’t discovered what motivates me. I’ll find it eventually, but I’ll tell you what; it isn’t working on a dead-end ranch out in the middle of nowhere. I want to achieve something that’ll make a difference, something more important than simply eking out a living just getting by.”

“Listen, young man,” his mother answered sharply, jabbing his brawny chest with her finger, “your father and I took over this ranch from your grandparents, and it’s been good to us. It feeds people, it’s provided for you and your sisters, and it is good, honest hard work, something you need to learn.”

“Mom, I know all about hard work,” Josh replied, taking on a quieter, less argumentative tone. “You’ve drilled it into me my entire life. This ranch was your and Dad’s dream. You chose this life, and I’m glad it means so much to you. But I never chose it for myself. I’m still searching for what I want. As much as it upsets you, I don’t think spending the rest of my life stuck here in the middle of nowhere will get me anywhere.”

“Your sisters don’t have a problem with it,” Melissa reminded her son. “And they haven’t let it limit them either. They’ve branched out, discovering things that challenge them which also benefit the family. You talk a mean tale about ‘finding yourself’, but until you do, you need to do your part. This family depends on you. Since your father died we’ve had to struggle to keep this place going, and frankly, your continual whining doesn’t keep the place operating on a daily basis.”

“Look, I’m not afraid of hard work,” Josh repeated, his voice once more rising in pitch. He was tired of being blamed for being unhappy with his life, and if his family wanted to make a fight of it, then he’d take them on. Still, he struggled to keep his voice calm and his tone reasonable. “I’ve put in plenty of work around here. But if this isn’t how I see my life unfolding, you can’t expect me to be satisfied with it. This is your dream—a dream which killed Dad, I might add. When I find what I want to do, I’ll work hard to achieve it, but so far, I just haven’t discovered it.”

“Yeah, right, as if you’ve ever done anything but complain,” Janet commented as she stood up, washing her plate and silverware. She normally tried to stay out of these family arguments about Josh, but she was tired of listening to him bitch about what the rest of the family worked so hard for.

“All right, this discussion is getting us nowhere,” Melissa declared, standing up and putting an end to the family squabbling. They’d been over this ground before and she knew they weren’t going to settle it now. “How about you get out there and start work on the fence while you still can, and maybe you can contemplate what you really want to do with your life while you’re actually accomplishing something?”

Josh swallowed his remaining complaints with the last of his juice. He knew the women in his family. They were as bull-headed as the cattle they raised. They were so focused on the family business they couldn’t understand anything else.

Josh put his stuff away and headed for the door, his sisters falling in behind him. Working the fence line is something which requires several hands, and while they relied on Josh to do the heavy work of digging the post holes and manhandling the posts into position, they all worked equally as hard at it.

Melissa regarded her kids as they headed out the door. For all his complaining, Josh was right. When it came to it, he got his work done. He just wasn’t satisfied with the work itself. His sisters had worked to make the family business their own by figuring out how to adapt their dreams to their situation, but she knew Josh would never be happy doing what the others found so important. She just hoped he’d find something important enough to motivate him to succeed.

Letting the screen door slam behind him, Josh took a deep breath of the dry Arizona air, allowing his tensions to drain from him. His family made him crazy, but he’d learned long ago to let conflicts go so he could do his work properly.

As much as he complained, there was a lot to like about this region of the country. The family ranch stretched over two thousand acres of scrubland at the base of the mountains. Entirely too dusty and dry to raise crops, it worked for raising cattle, as long as they got the occasional rain to keep the dirt from blowing away. Growing up, most of Josh’s friends were from the nearby Navajo reservation in the mountains overlooking the ranch. Many Native Americans used the local schools and came here for the few jobs available in the region while remaining close to their homeland. Josh and his family had learned a healthy respect for the environment and life in general from them. Life, like nature itself, was something you couldn’t own. You were only given a piece of it to watch over during your lifetime, and you did your best to preserve it for those who follow, because otherwise, it would be gone in no time.

That formed the basis of Josh’s philosophy. Having adopted it as his own mantra years ago, it was a view which frequently got him into trouble. Living in a solidly Republican state, he liked their idea of limited government because he’d clearly seen what happens when government is left to its own devices. It always overreached, taking whatever it wanted leaving only what the wealthy and powerful could fight to protect; meanwhile the poor and voiceless were simply swept aside. However, that perspective also proved difficult, even in this conservative enclave, especially given Josh’s ‘in your face’ attitude.

Josh found the Republican style of government overreach just as onerous. Whereas the Democrats tended to create bureaucracies, at least they professed a desire to help people. The Republicans, though, interfered not just in what people could do with their own businesses, but into their lives and bedrooms. They sought to dictate who people could love, what they could do and which morality they were obligated to follow, even when they didn’t believe in it themselves. Frankly, Josh didn’t like either perspective. They both wanted unlimited power to expand, and he felt it necessary to resist on both fronts, even if he was powerless to do so.

As a result, he developed the reputation of a troublemaker. Though he listened to the more conservative news stations everyone in the region did, he frequently argued with people over what they said. He also wasn’t afraid to stage his own protests, showing his displeasure over whichever form of government intervention was currently constraining the people he knew. He realized his attitude would be difficult to maintain if he moved to a more populous metropolitan area. It was already proving so at his college, but he realized he couldn’t remain here on the ranch like his siblings. No, despite the freedom he enjoyed, ranching was too constraining. He wanted more out of life.

He appreciated his solitude, spending time reading or fantasizing about better things, but life here was lonely. Their nearest neighbors, the McCrearys—whose daughter just happened to be his ex-girlfriend—lived several miles away. Now, in addition to the difficulty of getting together on a regular basis, he felt awkward doing so, leaving him feeling more isolated.

Letting those concerns go, Josh scanned the fencing dividing the property line. They had a lot of distance to cover and he wanted to determine how much time they had. If it was going to rain, he wanted to be closer to home. But if it held off, he’d prefer to deal with the fences further out.

While scanning the horizon, he heard an odd whistling sound—surprisingly loud—farther to the west, close to the base of the mountains the ranch abutted. Turning, Josh wondered what would cause such a sound in such a peaceful setting when his eyes located the source amidst the flat dusty terrain: a rising dust storm.

Shading his eyes, he tried to study it, but could only see was a mass of spinning brown dust. Then he saw something darker slowly descending into the swirling cloud. He assumed that was what kicked up the dust.

“What was that?” Melissa asked, stepping out of the house and approaching him from behind.

“We don’t know,” Janet responded, adjusting her glasses as she pointed off to the side. “It seemed to have come from over there.”

“No, it’s there, out near the cliffs,” Josh corrected her, pointing in the correct direction. His eyesight was good, but he assumed they just hadn’t noticed it yet. “Something seems to be over there, and if there’s something that large here, it just might be serious.”

“A dust devil?” Fran asked, confused about what he was describing.

“No, it’s too wide and it doesn’t extend up very far,” he explained. “Besides, I saw something generating the dust cloud. It looked more like a helicopter trying to land, but we didn’t hear any helicopters approaching.”

“I can’t see anything other than the dust now,” his mother said.

“I saw it earlier, but I couldn’t tell what it was,” Josh told her. “It was too far off, so I might have been imagining it, but….”

“Well, if you think someone is in trouble, you’d best get out there and check,” Melissa told him. “You investigate while I stay here and get the first aid kit prepared, just in case.”

Josh was already heading towards the back to get his pickup when Janet called. “I’m coming with you, just let me get Chestnut. After all, if it’s nothing, which it probably is, I can use her to work the fence line.” Josh stopped to consider, then shook his head.

“No, we’d better use the pickup. It’ll get there faster. It’ll take too long to wrangle the horses. If necessary I’ll bring you back, but I want to make sure it’s not something major first.”

“Well hold on then,” Fran said. “As long as you’re heading out, I’m coming along. It’s probably nothing and there’s no use all of us wasting our time. If nothing else, I can start setting the fence line while you’re busy ferrying Janet back and forth.”

Janet rewarded her sister by sticking her tongue out at her, but otherwise let the comment pass. She was curious about what was occurring, as it wasn’t often surprises like this happened out here in the middle of nowhere.

The drive out took some time, during which they worried about what they might discover. Once they arrived, it was difficult to make anything out, as most of the dust had settled. Josh located a small ridge of recently displaced soil. Climbing out of the pickup, Josh and his sisters approached a small depression rimmed by the just created ridge. Cresting it, they observed a large bullet shaped black object. Its top was open, slid back along its length, revealing a dark interior. A lone cow, just as curious as they, was nosing one end of it.

“What is it?” Frances asked, peering around her brother, who took the lead.

“I don’t know,” Josh answered, looking it over. “The best I can guess is a military aircraft of some sort, possibly a drone of some kind. It looks pretty sophisticated and professionally constructed, but has no markings of any kind.”

“Yeah, and there aren’t any military installations near here,” Fran reminded him.

Janet, seeing something, reached out and touched Josh’s arm, alerting him. Looking again, Josh noticed someone inside the capsule. His sisters followed a few steps behind as he approached the strange craft for a better look. Nudging the cow aside, Josh peered in. Inside sat one of the strangest creatures he’d ever seen. Its skin was mixed copper and red, covered with strange markings. It wore some sort of clothing which appeared to be damp, apparently from sweat. It was leaning back, as if exhausted and unable to move on its own. It was also wheezing for breath, making a high-pitched, almost indecipherable whine.

Janet and Fran gasped, stopping to gawk, but Josh didn’t pause. All he saw was someone in distress. Without thinking he moved to help. Josh knelt, reaching over the side attempting to lift the strange creature from the small craft, but found it incredibly heavy. Motioning Fran forward and explaining his plans, they both struggled, lifting the ship’s occupant out of the craft. Man, was it heavy! Josh had no idea how to reference it, as it didn’t look either male or female. He knew the convention was to always refer to someone of indeterminate sexuality as ‘he’, but he felt reluctant referring to something this alien as ‘him’.

Once out in the light, the creature was easier to make out. It was indeed sweating heavily, rivulets tracing through the brown dust coating its skin. It had no hair of any kind, only colorful feather-like ‘fur’ decorating its skin. No ‘little green man’ as so often portrayed in the movies, it was oddly shaped, kind of from the bottom up. It was bigger lower to the ground and got thinner the taller he/she/it rose. It had four legs, situated not like the normal paired legs, but one on each side of its body. They were thick with joints that moved in a crablike fashion, extending away from its body. It also had four arms, though smaller than its legs, each appendage ending in four thin claw-like fingers. It looked like it could scuttle in any direction like a crab. It breathed in heavy gasps and shivered. Josh’s confusion about its gender was settled, as it bore four smallish breasts.

Setting her on the ground, Josh considered what to do next. Fran backed up, looking skittish, while Janet stepped forward to observe her closer up. It tried speaking, but they couldn’t understand as it sounded more like the barking of a seal than anything else. Seeing as they couldn’t comprehend her, she stopped resisting, letting them decide what to do on their own.

“Jeez, Josh, what did we stumble onto?” Janet asked, her voice trembling.

“I have no idea,” Josh responded, sounding surprisingly calm, “but she looks incredibly sick. We’ve got to get her to the house, in bed and under covers.”

“Are you crazy?” Fran asked. “We don’t know what it is, what it might do, or whether it’s dangerous!”

“Well, clearly she’s intelligent. She’s dressed in some kind of uniform, in an advanced ship and was trying to communicate with us.”

“Uh, if it’s sick, should we even be touching it?” asked Janet, the aspiring vet and the only one with any medical training. Meanwhile the cow, which Josh recognized as Bessie 3, edged forward and sniffed at the alien.

“Please, Bessie, give her some space. Not everyone wants a wet nose jabbing them in the face,” Josh complained, shoving the large animal aside. However, it wasn’t quite so easy. With an animal that big, he had to edge it in one direction and wait for it to get around to moving on its own. But it did give them time to consider the situation.

“Well, since she’s not human, I’d assume whatever she’s suffering from won’t affect us,” Josh said, taking in the sickened creature before them, “but no, we really shouldn’t. We’ve all got gloves and long sleeves, so we should be Okay. Just be sure to strip your clothes, clean them separately and sterilize everything with Purell and hopefully we’ll be fine.”

“Hopefully?” Fran asked skeptically.

“I’m not so sure, but if you say so,” Janet responded, sounding doubtful but not as disturbed as Fran.

“If she can infect us, it’s already too late,” Josh concluded, “but we can’t leave her. She needs help. Come on, Fran, help me lift her into the back of the truck.”

“The hell with that,” Fran responded. “She’s too heavy for us to lift her that high. We’ll need Janet to help, and even then it’ll be tough. She’s one heavy alien.”

“To paraphrase the Rolling Stones, ‘she ain’t heavy, she’s my sister species’,” Josh joked, unable to resist.

“That’s terrible,” Janet said, slapping him on the shoulder. “How can you joke at a time like this?”

“Sorry, couldn’t help it. Anyway, come on,” he continued, urging his sisters forward. “The longer she’s out here, the worse she’ll be. She needs to be inside, under shelter.”

Fran was correct, for the strange creature’s diminutive size, she shouldn’t have been nearly as heavy as she was. She stood—if she was capable of standing—only about four and a half feet, and aside from the heavy legs, wasn’t very wide either. Josh idly wondered whether she wore lead underwear.

After Janet backed the truck up, they struggled to lift her onto the back of the truck. Almost losing their hold several times, when they got her onto the truck the entire truck bed sank as the springs had difficulty keeping the frame off the ground.

Janet, her vet instincts taking over, climbed in after and held her, to hold her steady. Josh climbed behind the wheel while Fran took the passenger seat. Josh pulled away, trying to drive slowly enough to avoid jostling her, while not wasting much time getting her to safety. Bessie idly watched them depart and wandered away, her curiosity satisfied. Fran opened the small interconnecting window, asking Janet how the sick alien was faring.

“She’s not doing well,” she replied. “She’s shivering and isn’t aware of what’s going on.” That inspired Josh to drive faster, despite how badly it tossed the two in the back around. Janet could have easily steadied herself by holding the railings, but instead braced herself with her legs so she could steady the alien.

The return trip seemed to take forever but couldn’t have been more than ten minutes. Once they skidded to a halt in front of the house Josh called out for his mother, while Frances helped Janet maneuver the … thing, to the edge of the truck bed.

“What the hell?” Melissa exclaimed when she came out and saw what they had in the back of their truck.

“We found her crash landed in the field,” Josh explained as if this happened all the time. “She’s clearly sick, sweating like a pig and shivering. We’ve got to get her into a bed and try to lower her temperature.”

“Uh, are you sure that’s wise?” she asked. Her two daughters stopped, turning to debate the issue, but Josh was having none of it.

“Absolutely! She’s sick, homeless, far from home and has no one to stand up for her. We can’t just turn her away. If we don’t help her, she’ll die where she lies. If you don’t want to take care of her, I will. So tell me now whether you’re helping or not, but don’t waste time quibbling over it. If you aren’t comfortable treating her, then get out of the way.”

Taken by surprise, Melissa stepped back at Josh’s vehemence. She’d never known him to be terribly committed about anything and wondered whether he’d ever take anything seriously. She was shocked by his response.

“No, you’re right,” she agreed, nodding after a moment’s delay. “I’ll help. But I needed to know you were sure of what you’re committing yourselves to.”

Seeing the discussion was settled and not wanting to argue about abandoning someone in need, Janet and Frances returned to helping the strange … woman from the truck.

“We should keep her in the house,” Josh added as he helped. “If anyone comes looking, they’d need a warrant to enter the house, whereas they could simply walk into any of the outbuildings.”

“That’s where I was planning to put her, assuming it is female,” Melissa told him. “I figured I’d put her in my room, while I take the couch in the den.”

“She’s incredibly heavy, so you’ll need to remove the bedsprings so they aren’t damaged,” Josh explained. “Now, I know it’s terrible to issue instructions and run off, leaving all the work, but I want to bury her ship. I’m sure the government will search for it if they have any clue she’s here. If they do a flyby, I have no idea whether it will show up inside a garage, so I’ll bury it to be sure.”

“Are you really sure…?” Melissa started to ask before stopping to consider it. As obsessed as Josh was about the government, he had a point. The government would clearly be interested, and would likely stop at nothing to get their hands on her.

“I’m sure. We’re all risking our lives by doing this, so no one mention this to anyone. No gossip, no innuendo, nothing gets said,” he insisted.

“Don’t worry,” Janet told him. “No one would believe me anyway, and if I send them a photo they’d assume it was photoshopped.”

“Good, I’ll be back as soon as I’m done, but I have to finish while we still have cloud cover. Being caught burying something would be just as incriminating as having a strange space vessel in the backyard.”

“Wait, we’ll need help carrying her,” Fran objected.

“We can manage,” their mother insisted. “Janet, grab the handcart, we can manage with that. I think I’ve got an old stretcher we can use to get her onto it. We should be able to manage with those.”

“All right, I’m off. Take care and be careful about exposing yourselves. We don’t know how contagious what she has is.” Josh ran for the shed to grab the tractor he’d need to transport and bury the craft. He knew if the ship was anywhere near as heavy as the creature, he’d have a lot of trouble managing it with a tractor.

“So, how’s she doing?” Josh asked, reentering the house while wiping the dirt caked on his damp skin off his brow.

“She wants to see you,” Melissa told her son.

That stopped him in his tracks. “She doesn’t speak a word we can understand and she’s a species we’ve never encountered from a planet we don’t even know exists. How the hell do you know—”

“I know,” Janet answered from their mother’s bedroom. “I’ve been around animals all my life and I’m studying to be a vet. I don’t need someone who speaks English to know what someone wants.” Janet walked into the kitchen where Josh and Melissa were.


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