Once Upon a Time in Utah

I wrote this narrative sometime in January, while my clone-sibling was halfway across the country on a dig and I had nothing to do but sit around the house and brood… I’m never going to use it as written (which is the only reason why I’m posting it here), but it is important backstory for one or two characters in my stories. I’d say, “Enjoy,” but that’s hardly the appropriate word. I hope it makes the reader feel, though.

Sometimes omniscient-third with author intrusion is the only way to tell a story.  It at least distances the details to something bearable.  So…

Once upon a time, back in the year 2016, there was a place called the Pemberton Institute.  Located in the desert of Utah, it was officially some kind of privately owned think tank that did a lot of research for the military.  That’s the United States of America’s military, mind you — there were lots of countries on Earth back then.

Now, the real purpose of the Institute had more to do with protecting that country from alien threat than it had to do with honest military research.  (I say this with a full dose of irony.)  The top floors, the ones aboveground, were indeed dedicated to thinking up new bombs or whatever, but below ground, all the way down on Level Six… That’s where the real work happened.  Rather, that’s where they were prepared to do the real work as soon as they had anything to work on.

But it so happened, one day in that year of 2016, that they got what they wanted: a real live alien lifeform.  Not the proverbial little green man or bug-eyed monster or any of the other things that they had been led to expect.  No, this was something far too human in appearance — all the more reason to fear it, because who knew how many others could be out there in hiding, just waiting to do whatever it was that alien lifeforms did to unsuspecting humans?  (I’m sorry — do I sound bitter?  Angry, even?  Imagine that.)

Picture it:  A room filled with all the scientific equipment that was considered “cutting edge” at the time.  Lovely expression, isn’t that?  And how appropriate.  Monitors with blinking lights on their faces and wires running out of them, computers to keep track of all the readings from various sensors, cabinets with sharp, cold instruments tucked away… And in the middle of the room, strapped to a table and with bright lamps burning mercilessly above, a man.  What appears to be a man, anyway.  We’ve already established that they have an alien entity down here.  Well, this is it.  Let’s pause for a closer look…

Height, a bit under six feet; say five-eleven.  If muscle and bone density are similar to a human’s, weight will be approximately a hundred seventy pounds.  That’s in the measurements of that time, of course; we’d say seventy-four kilos and a hundred eighty centimeters, now.  By appearance, male, young — maybe as old as twenty-five, but no older — and light-to-medium skin color but dark hair and eyes.  Nothing to mark this creature as alien.  Except that its ears are shaped wrong, and not from surgical alteration.  Such a small detail to give away such an enormous secret.  Besides, they’ve had someone tracking this creature for years, and someone else was tracking it for decades before that.  In all that time, it hasn’t changed; it hasn’t aged.

Ask yourself — as the scientists in this room are surely asking themselves — why does the creature look like this?  Is that coincidence, or was it actually trying to pass as human? What sinister purpose would that have served, had it been successful?  (I am trying to put myself into the mindset of the people of that time.  Forgive me if I sound like a raving paranoid.)

The creature has made no attempts to break its bonds and escape.  It is intelligent, after all; it has to know that even were it to get out of this room, there is nowhere for it to run.  And by the look of it, the creature is resigned to its fate.  Nor has it made any sound whatsoever since it was first apprehended.  It hasn’t tried to communicate at all, to question or threaten or plead.  The man who brought it in insists that it is capable of speech — how else maintain such a disguise? — but it has said nothing.

Now a lab technician approaches it with a hypodermic needle in hand.  The scientists want a blood sample.  They already have skin cells for DNA, but they want to be thorough.  The creature begins thrashing, still silent.  The look in its eyes would be called panic, in a human.  Something about the needle, specifically, terrifies it.  The creature is struggling so hard that the tech worries about getting the sample without the needle breaking off.

A man steps forward from behind the scientists.  He’s not one of them, nor is he one of the guards, but he has the look of someone who has been at the Institute for a while.  His name is Alex, and he’s known to the rest as the resident shrink.  It’s his job to keep the scientists and the guards all happy and sane (yes, appreciate the irony), and for that reason alone does he have full clearance to know about what they do here.  They have to be able to tell their doctor about their work-related stress, don’t they?  He is here in this room in case they need his psychological expertise to communicate with the creature.

Despite working in a place like this, Alex is a kind man.  He never expected that there would be real live alien lifeforms in the Institute’s basement — he never believed in extraterrestrials at all — but he did think that someone needed to keep an eye on the scientists down there busily doing research and  inventing new toys for the military.  The weapons will be built, there’s no avoiding that, but if he can make sure that the men who build them aren’t completely fucking bugnuts, he’ll have done his part in slowing the rate at which the world goes to hell.

Alex is a kind man, and he sees the creature’s fear.  He sees it, and he can’t help but be moved to do what little he can to ease that fear.  All the tech wants is to draw a little blood, after all — the pain won’t be so bad.  He steps closer and catches the creature’s eyes.  He tries to speak reassuringly, tries to calm it, and it does go still.  Then… It looks intently at Alex for a moment, then looks down to its side, directing his gaze there.  It opens its left hand and turns it over, showing the underside: a white line like a scar runs diagonally across the palm.  Then it looks, very deliberately, at the tech with the needle, and back at Alex again.

The scientists are impatient, but they are also willing to let Alex have a try at gaining the creature’s compliance.  If he can do that now, they’ll have much less to worry about later.  (Little do they know…)  And he has a thought:  It isn’t mere fear of a little discomfort that causes the creature to struggle now, when it was so still before.  No, there’s something more going on.

“It’s the needle, specifically.  Isn’t it?” Alex says.

And to the surprise of everyone except Alex, the creature nods slightly.

“Because of what it’s made from?”  This is a wild hunch — nothing that he can say for certain how he thought of — but it pays off.  Again, the creature signs that this is true.

Alex turns to the lab tech.  “Do you have pipettes stashed somewhere?  Micropipettes — glass ones?”  The tech understands the question, and immediately goes to the cabinet where such tools are stores.  One of the scientists objects — who cares if the creature is afraid?  It’s a laboratory specimen, nothing more.

“If you want to talk to him — ever — maybe you should at least try to make this less traumatic,” says Alex.

“It’s not human,” the scientist replies.  “You can’t talk to it.  Who gives a damn how it feels?”  But now Alex has the others thinking, and they agree with him — up to a point.

“All you need is a blood sample, right?” Alex says, taking the fine tube of glass from the tech, who nods.  Then to the creature, he says, “I’m sorry.  This is still going to hurt.”

Not as much, say those eyes.  Not nearly as much.

Alex knows how to do this; he attended medical school, after all.  The creature waits as he secures the elastic tie around its upper arm, then makes a fist… Just as if it knows how this is supposed to work.

The creature gasps as the pointed end of the pipette pierces its skin — the first vocalization it has made — but that is all.  Alex watches as the pipette fills up with red, then loosens the tie and withdraws the makeshift needle.  Then he hands it off to the lab tech.  The scientists are satisfied — they have the sample they wanted.

When no one else is paying attention, the creature meets his eyes again, and whispers, “Thank you.”

 

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About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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2 Responses to Once Upon a Time in Utah

  1. Pingback: U | North of Andover

  2. Pingback: Interviews with my imaginary friends: Alex Walotsky | North of Andover

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