by Jörn Grote
All my friends are aliens. So are my enemies. When you are in the same line of work I am, that is how it is. We are the Earth Defense Force, trying to protect humanity from alien aggression.
I was a little bit drunk this evening and raced home full of happiness. I remembered how Heather had kissed me.
“Close your eyes, Tony Goonan” she said before it happened, both of us drunk and giggling like school kids. And then she kissed me. I still felt her warmth on my lips. The world had looked brighter and better than ever. I felt it then, that the world was a good place and the future would even better.
Then the lights appeared in the darkness. And I realized that I was on the wrong side of the street. They say that at the moment you are about to die, your whole life will pass before your eyes. The only thing I saw was a truck that was growing in size until it filled my vision. Then nothingness followed.
“You can open your eyes, Mr. Goonan. Everything is all right.”
I tried to remember what had happened last. Wasn’t I on my way home? I remembered the kiss. Shocked I sat up and opened my eyes fully. The truck had hit my car. When I looked at the one who had spoken to me, I had the next shock. I opened my mouth, but the words failed me.
A small, inhuman creature, with gray skin and compound eyes like an insect.
Eventually I said something. “What are you?”
“I am a Gray. My name is Xorotis. I am not from Earth.”
When I did not respond, he shrugged, a gesture that despite his inhuman appearance looked very human. “You may want to ask many questions. Here is the short answer, there are many different visitors on Earth from many different worlds. Some of us are friendly, some are not. We friendly ones are trying to protect humanity against those that are not so friendly.”
My mind felt numb.
“What?” I said like an idiot. Then, to make at least some sense, I added, “What has all that to do with me?”
“Unfortunately one of our field units caused the accident where you nearly lost your life. We felt responsible and wanted to give you a second chance. We grew you a new body and implanted your mind into it. Luckily your head wasn’t damaged, and the accidents happened near one of our bases.”
“The truck,” Xorotis said.
Then it hit me. “You grew me a new body and implanted my mind?”
“Yes.” I could hear pride in his voice. “You will also live for much longer than most normal humans. Sadly we had to change your face, since you’re officially declared dead.”
“For nearly a year. Even with our technology your recovery took time.”
I had been dead for nearly a year. My family, all my friends had learned to live with the thought of me gone. And Heather. Heather who had kissed me. What would happen if I suddenly popped up out of nowhere. How much pain would it mean for my loved ones, after they had learned to live with their loss.
“And what now?” I said to Xorotis.
Again Xorotis made a gesture that looked very human. I realized that I had become accustomed to his strange look. Maybe it was because he was talking as if he were human. How long had he been on Earth, I mused.
“That is entirely up to you. I can see that you think about going back to your family. If that is what your really want, we still have samples of your original body. We can grow that one back and use a backup of your old mind shortly after the accident. But all that will take time. And both of us know how strange it will look like when you emerge two years after you have died with no explanation where you have been all the time and how you survived an accident where they found a headless body that was supposedly yours. But all that is up to you. It is your decision.”
“Do I have any other options?” I said.
“Sure you do. There is always a place for someone who wants to help us. You can join the EDF, the Earth Defense Force, and protect humanity with us. Protect all the people you care for, even if they don’t know it.”
What can you say about something like that. And so I joined the Earth Defense Force.
We were flying an EDF combat craft, invisible to human radar technology and capable of leaving the atmosphere in mere minutes. I was still in training, and because of that I was learning the usage of most of the standard equipment of the EDF. My pilot trainer was a Stick, and like the Grays, the nickname was mostly appropriate. Taller than most humans, yet extremely scrawny. The Stick was an it, because his race propagated through means of asexual reproduction. Because they had nothing like that, the concept of gender itself and sex was novel to them.
“I think I will try being a woman next time,” Willow said. The Sticks had names that were unspeakable for humans and used mostly nicknames, very often taken from Earth plants or trees.
“You do what?” I had met other Sticks before, but none of them had talked this enduringly about sex, the different gender concepts of the humans and aliens and about reproduction in general.
“Last time I tried being a man. That was interesting, but I want to know how it is to be a woman. I want to know how different it feels.” I must have looked a little shocked. The possibilities of the alien technology never ceased to astonish me. “That is possible?”
“Sure. It’s the same technology that was used to save you after your accident.”
“But why would you want to do it at all?”
He looked at me as if I was an idiot. “Isn’t it evident? The best way to be invisible in human society is if you have a human body.”
I looked out of the window. Something did not fit, nagged at the back of my mind.
“So, when did you first have sex, Tony Goonan?” Willow asked. Sometimes the Stick was just too direct.
“Well,” I said, thinking about a way of avoiding the question. Luckily I was saved. We were notified of an escape ship of an alien attack that was in our target range. We traced it down until we were in shooting range and began our attack. Willow had stopped talking and concentrated entirely on taking the other ship down.
The enemy ship was small, hopelessly outmatched against our EDF fighter. Willow fired some missiles, but the other ship evaded them. Our target tried to escape, but after a short pursuit through the clouds it was clear that there was no escape for it. Suicidal, it tried to ram us, but our ship avoided that fate easily. The last maneuver had been the last straw of the enemy.
We shot him down mere moments later. I had seen enough attacks on human facilities that I knew that violence was the only way of stopping the non-friendly aliens on Earth.
When we opened the crashed scout ship, we found a dead Gray.
“I thought the Grays were on our side,” I said to Willow. The only enemy aliens I had seen until then had been from a race nicknamed Claws.
He shook his head. “Protectors and aggressors come from all races. There are no good or bad ones. It’s embarrassing, but there are even some Sticks who menace humanity.”
Two years ago I had completed my training and became a junior field agent. My senior partner was Xorotis. It was strange: despite the fact that we had become friends of some sort, I knew next to nothing about his past. All aliens seemed to be tight-lipped about their past.
Most of the time we were waiting for things to happen, living under cover in sensible areas that were possible targets of alien attacks. And like always when I was bored, I tried to probe my strange friend with questions.
“Did you see the alien invasion movie last week? If I hadn’t seen more than my share of aliens, maybe I would have thought it was frightening. I think it was okay, but overall there was something missing. They never explained the reasons why the aliens attacked. They were just evil.”
“The movie wasn’t really about aliens like us, it was merely a metaphor.”
“Yeah, I know, but still...” I said.
“I would have liked to see a logical reason for the invasion. It is not that hard to come up with one, but most movies don’t even try to give an explanation why the aliens have come here in the first place. Thinking about the reason why they come to Earth drives me crazy.”
Silence followed. “Are you still talking about the movie?”
“Not really. You know, it really drives me crazy. I know you are here. But I don’t know why. I know there are aggressive aliens on Earth. I’ve seen their attacks. But I don’t know why they do what they do. Why do they attack? And why are most of their targets scientists or scientific communities? And why do some aliens try to protect humanity against them?”
“I can tell you if you want. It’s not such a big secret.”
“Yes, I really want to know,” I said.
“Okay. It is like this. Every individual being has his own unique viewpoint on reality. Likewise, every intelligent race in the galaxy has his own unique mix of cultures and perspectives on everything else. The faster a race advances and becomes a member of the galactic society, the faster our galactic society grows in versatility. We, who have come here to protect, think that versatility is key to a healthy and progressive galactic society and all will benefit from that in the long run.”
“And the aggressors?”
“They think only in terms of competition and short-term goals. The bigger the competition is, the less powerful they are in the big picture. Most of them fear that every new member of the galactic society will weaken their position. They are trying to prevent younger cultures from becoming too advanced and qualified for membership. But since every race that commits genocide will be hunted down by the rest of the galactic society, they mostly try to stop the progress of younger races in subtle ways. That’s why they kill mostly scientists.”
“What about you? Why did you chose to become a protector of a civilization alien to you? How did you become the Gray who you are today. You know nearly everything about my life, but I don’t know much about your past. I’m curious.”
He was silent for a short time. “I can’t tell you right now, but one day I will tell about my past.”
He never got around telling me.
Looking around in Xorotis’ home showed me again how paradoxical life can be. Since I had entered the EDF, I had embraced the strangeness of my new life and became a little distanced from my own culture. Yet Xorotis, an alien living as a human on Earth, had embraced our culture. If someone had seen our two rooms at the same time, he would have thought me the alien.
Bewildered I shook my head. What was the fascination of our culture to the aliens? Not only Xorotis’ race, the Grays, were like that, all aliens I had met in the EDF embraced the human culture as if there was no tomorrow for them. It was much more to them than just tourist curiosity. I never understood it.
And then a photo of my friend reminded me of what had happened to him. I said goodbye one last time, closed the door and left the home of my friend. I knew that the EDF had reanimated an old backup of Xorotis, but that was long before we had been friends, only two years after my fateful accident all these years ago.
He was Xorotis, but not the one I had known all these years. I had successfully avoided meeting him until now, and thinking about him made me uneasy. He wasn’t the one who had been my friend.
Instead of thinking about his backup, my mind drifted elsewhere. I had spoken with one of the surviving agents of the mission where Xorotis had died.
“The moment the Gray terrorist saw us, he screamed something in the Gray language, but the only words I knew were ‘children’ and ‘thief’. Then he began to shoot,” the agent said to me. He shook his head. “Who could have thought he had a heavy plasma cannon?”
Not only Xorotis had died that day, from the ten field agents who had tried to secure the Gray, only four had come back alive. The Gray terrorist had escaped.
“There is another thing,” the agent said. “I’ve seen anger in battle. But what I saw that day wasn’t just anger, it was hatred. The Gray knew your partner, personally. I’m sure of that.”
Back on the street I looked up to the sky. Nothing had changed, yet a world without my friend was a completely different world. I missed him already.
Six long years I waited, working under cover as a scientist in one of the cutting-edge companies that designed computer hardware. My small department researched self-optimizing hardware, self-modifying devices that operated similar to biological life where the edge between hard- and software became blurred.
I had chosen this company because I knew that the Gray who had killed my friend was known for his attacks on targets like this. It was a small chance that he would attack where I worked, but a chance was all I needed.
When he came, I was ready.
The Gray just walked into the main room of our department, then pulled his weapon. It was the same heavy plasma cannon he had used to kill my friend Xorotis. A bulky design that made instantly clear that the only use for the device was destruction.
Only moments later I pulled my own weapon, a railgun, an updated design of the old plasma weapon.
He turned his head in my direction.
Instinctively I shoot him in the head two times. Normally that would have been a good idea, but the Grays were much smaller than humans, and my shots only destroyed the head of his camouflage suite. Strangely, the aggressors never used cloned human bodies like the field agents of the EDF.
The Gray activated his cannon and began to fire.
Beams of accelerated particles rammed me into the wall, the only thing that saved my life was my body armor. At that moment I loved the alien high tech that had saved my life. All human armor I knew would have been hacked to shreds.
Around me deadly particle beams were buzzing, hacking into my colleagues and the furniture alike. For the moment I lay forgotten on the ground. From where I had fallen I shot the Gray in his shoulders. With a scream of pain he lost the grip on his weapon. He looked into my direction and began to shout.
Since Xorotis had been my friend, I had learned the main language the Grays used. “Thief of our children, devious human scum,” the wounded Gray screamed. “I will get them back.” I stunned him to stop his screams. I had thought about killing him, but I wanted to know what the Gray had been talking about.
* * *
“Where am I?” the Gray said.
“On the flight to the EDF prison on Mars. Before we arrive, I want some answers. But let us begin with something easy. What’s your name?”
The Gray remained silent.
“You know,” I said, “you can make it easy or hard for yourself. You killed my partner and best friend. If you don’t answer my question, well, you know, sometimes accidents happen.”
I pulled my gun. “Painful accidents!” I said angrily. The Gray flinched. “Let’s try again. What’s your name?”
“Zoozeben,” the Gray said through his teeth, as if it was painful to utter even these words.
“See, was that so difficult? Let’s try something more daunting. Why did you meant when you screamed the thing with the children.”
The Gray looked at me. “You do not know anything, don’t you?” he said.
“What do I not know?”
“The reason why we are here at all. The Grays. The other aliens. We, who want to bring our children back.”
“I do know why you are here.”
Zoozeben began to laugh. It wasn’t a very nice noise. “What you know is just one big lie. The EDF doesn’t protect the Earth culture until they can join the galactic society.”
“There is no galactic society. The only race that ever spread out over the Milky Way was the one that created the wormhole network we use to come to Earth. And even that race vanished long ago, like all the others.” He began to laugh again.
“Why did we aliens have come to earth at all? Why talk about our children? I could tell, but I won’t. If you really want to know, search for the answers on my homeworld. I will tell you the route through the wormhole network, but no more than that.”
To be continued...
Copyright © 2005 by Jörn Grote