“To this day, there’s still arguments about how they chose their landing site. I mean, clearly, we can throw out the whole mumbo-jumbo schtick about the aliens listening in on our television broadcasts. If they’d been listening, they would’ve just come crashing down in the middle of Times Square.”
“Hell, if they did that, it’d probably take hours before anyone even noticed them. Someone would toss spare change at their spaceship. Now that would be a hell of a welcome to Earth.”
“Whole thing’s immaterial, now. They chose where they did, and now we all have to deal with the consequences.”
The young analyst frowned down at her screen, tapping a few keys. She’d only been here for a few weeks, and although the system in front of her was starting to feel familiar, this had to be some sort of glitch.
Maybe rebooting…? She tried clicking a few options and menus, but the program seemed to be running just fine. Nothing hung, everything opened and closed, responded properly.
The output it reported just happened to be impossible.
Still, the analyst decided, this was above her pay grade to fix. And she’d been told that, even though she’d likely never see anything for the length of her career, she needed to raise a prompt alert.
“Colonel? Sir?” she called out over her shoulder to the senior officer. “I’ve, er, I’ve got something.”
She heard the rustle of military fatigues as the gray-haired colonel stepped up behind her. “Looks like a glitch,” he immediately dismissed the results displayed on the screen. “Nothing accelerates and moves like that.”
“Um, I don’t think so,” the analyst replied miserably. As the colonel narrowed his eyes, she saw her career burning up in smoke. “I double-checked, and the program’s responding properly.”
“But it can’t be,” he answered, nudging her aside to enter a few commands of his own. “That would mean that we’ve got something coming in… impossible…”
He trailed off, and then, suddenly reaching a decision, straightened up. “John! Get grid 38 up on the main screen!” he barked to another tech on the far side of the room.
As the image came into view on the largest monitor, projected across an entire wall, the other technicians and analysts stopped typing. They stared up at the screen, many of them with their mouths hanging open. Fingers paused, frozen, over keys in mid-stroke.
For a long minute, no one spoke.
“What do we do?” asked the young analyst, finally. “Who do we call?”
The colonel, however, just shook his head. “What’s its course?” he asked, his voice fainter than she’d ever heard it before.
She typed a few commands into her terminal. “Morocco,” she answered softly.
“Morocco.” The colonel shook his head again, grimacing as he pulled out his cell phone. “I need to step outside and make a few calls. Keep tracking that thing, and whatever you do, don’t lose it, no matter what! Understand?”
“I understand, sir,” the analyst started to reply, but the colonel had already left the room, his phone to his ear.
Omar Khayyat grimaced beneath the strip of gauze that covered his nose and mouth. Even with the protection in place, the damnable sand still managed to work its way in everywhere. He tried to look forward, squinting in his goggles as he peered for the familiar dome of his house, but the blowing sand obscured everything.
Behind him, he heard a bray as Habibi tugged on his rein, balking. “Come on, dummy,” Omar growled, turning to glare at the damnable camel. “We’re almost home.”
Habibi, however, didn’t appear willing to listen. For a moment, Omar considered just letting the camel sink down to his knees, using it as a windbreak to get some shelter, waiting for the worst of the dust storm to blow over. But they were so close! He just needed to press on a little further.
Shaking his head, Omar tugged Habibi another step further. Where had this storm even come from? He’d been watching the clear skies, seen no sign of any inclement weather. But then, in just moments, the storm had been upon him.
Trying to squint through the blowing sand, tilting his head back, Omar looked for any trace of blue sky. Surely, if the storm came on so suddenly, it wouldn’t last long-
His breath caught in his throat. A massive shape, black and heavy in the middle of the blowing sand, passed over him.
For a moment, Omar’s mind struggled to even comprehend the size of… of whatever it was. Some sort of plane? No, impossible. No plane was bigger than his entire village, moving so smoothly and silently through the air.
The sandstorm died down around Omar, although he scarcely noticed. He pulled his scratched goggles off of his eyes, his mouth dry for a reason that had nothing to do with the blowing dust and sand.
It was stopping. Whatever it was – sleek, black, rounded and bulbous – it was stopping, hovering in the air.
Omar’s eyes dropped down. There, directly beneath the shadow of the ship, stood his hut. He’d only been a couple hundred meters away.
Not knowing what he’d find, Omar kicked his feet into a run, sprinting towards his house and the massive black shape that hung in the air above and blotted out the sun.