A thousand cameras followed the alien saucer as it dropped smoothly out of the sky, down towards the front lawn in front of the White House.
Frowning, I hefted the silver flask in my hand. I usually made more of an attempt to keep the flask hidden from Arthur, my producer standing just behind Charlie the cameraman, but I couldn’t manage to exert the effort tonight.
After all, all of us were feeling pretty distracted.
Right now, the flask was nearly empty, I noted with distaste. Of course, maybe that distaste was from the remaining little bits of brandy washing around my mouth. I capped the flask and stuck it back inside my suit jacket.
Across from me, Arthur was punching Charlie’s shoulder, making the cameraman frown. “Are you getting this? Tell me you’re getting this!” my producer shouted in that annoying squeal he used when he got too excited.
“Yuh, boss,” Charlie grunted back. “Stop hitting, you’re making the camera bounce, yuh?”
Admittedly, this was a hell of a momentous moment. The first ever contact with aliens was happening right now, and I was one of the reporters on ground zero.
We’d known that they were coming for a good week, now. The alien saucer, although not big by interstellar measurements (“Practically just a planet hopping ship!” one of the so-called experts had dismissed it on a CrossFire program, as though he was some sort of authority on alien space ships), was more than big enough to show up on our high-powered radar.
Besides, they’d been thoughtful enough to broadcast a countdown clock to the time of their landing.
For the last week, the whole world had been afire with conflicting theories. We weren’t alone in the universe! But were these visitors going to be friendly – or hostile? Were we about to receive incredible insights into the very fabric of the universe, or were we about to be captured, enslaved, or maybe just annihilated without a second thought?
No one knew. And given the average level of panic in the world right now, I felt that I was owed a flask’s worth of brandy.
Little white lights around the edge of the alien flying saucer’s rim twinkled as it slowed down, gently descending down to the lawn. If I wasn’t seeing it with my own eyes, I would have guessed that it was just CGI – and not even a good attempt at that, I thought distantly to myself. This looked like a prop straight out of an old eighties B-movie.
As the saucer settled down onto the lawn, three landing struts sliding out to support it, Charlie panned over to capture the international delegation standing by, trying to not look like they were about to collectively shit themselves in fear. President Trump stood out in front, his ridiculous hair whipping back and forth in the night’s breeze, sticking his chest out and looking utterly ridiculous. Putin and a host of European leaders I didn’t recognize stood slightly behind him, each wearing his own unique expression of barely repressed panic.
Finally, the ship had landed. The saucer had been emitting a soft ticking noise, perhaps the sound of its propulsion. This ticking ended, and for a second, there was only the sound of the breeze in my ears.
From beneath the saucer, a ramp slid out, smoothly descending down to the ground. As the ramp made contact with the dirt, the alien emerged.
“Wish I had some better lighting,” Charlie grunted to himself from behind the camera.
No one else spoke. We just stared at the alien.
It was small, maybe four feet tall. It had gray skin, an oversized head, and two large, oval-shaped black eyes. It wore a single-piece garment made of some sort of stretchy blue fabric.
It looked like an utter joke.
“God, maybe those eighties movie makers were onto something,” I muttered to myself as we all stared.
Clearly, the President and other dignitaries had been also caught off-guard by the alien’s appearance. Most of them just stood with their mouths hanging open, gasping and staring.
The alien peered at the leaders, and then turned and surveyed the reporters and cameramen standing another pace back. “Hello? Is this Galactic Sector ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, Planet designation XF319-42-384, sub-Sol 3?” it asked.
For a moment, I nearly burst out laughing. The thing sounded like Arthur after an extra hit of helium.
The President and other leaders still hadn’t managed to find their voices. “Uh, we call it Earth,” some wag called out.
That voice sounded familiar. It wasn’t until Art gasped behind me that I realized that I’d been the one to speak.
The little alien glanced over at me. “Earth?” it repeated in that squeaky little voice. “And are you a representative of the dominant species?”
“Uh, I guess?” Why the hell wasn’t anyone else speaking up? What was going on? It was mostly the brandy keeping me upright at this point.
“Great!” The alien turned and tottered over to me, holding something out. “Here you are!”
The little gray creature held some sort of computer disk in its hands. I took it, totally not knowing what was going on. This was the momentous first exchange of technology between us and another civilized race. This would go down in the history books.
The disk in my hands looked exactly like a three-and-a-half inch floppy.
I saw the little alien frown as I stared down dumbly at the object. “Is this not right? We understood that this was a compatible data format,” it stammered. I had no experience reading emotions into a squeaky little munchkin voice, but it sounded a little nervous.
“Um, no,” I managed. “We’ve got these.”
“Great! Then just post it back to us within a Galactic cycle, please.” The alien turned and began to totter back towards the ramp.
“Wait!” The little alien glanced back, and I realized once again, a second too late, that I’d opened my damn mouth. The words were already coming, however, and I couldn’t stop them. “What is this? What’s on this disk?”
“Oh.” The alien did something that I could almost convince myself was a shrug. “Galactic census survey. Remember, just drop it on a rocket, and we’ll pick it up. Have a good cycle!”
Finally, as the ramp disappeared back into the saucer, the politicians and leaders of the world found their voices, all of them shouting and rushing forward, waving their arms. I could hear Arthur shouting something, and people looked to be rushing towards me, their eyes locked on that disk.
All I heard, however, was Charlie let out a disappointed grunt. “Nuh, he’s gonna look totally washed out,” the cameraman commented to himself. “Shoulda brought a better filter.”