Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Week 1: The Emissary

Michael Salsbury
You've probably heard the Roswell story. Everyone has.  No matter what you think you know about it, you're probably wrong.  The real story is weirder than what you're imagining.

Aliens? No. But they figure into it later.  Yes, there were little grey beings there.  You know the ones... Big black eyes, grey skin, spindly little limbs.  Those aren't aliens.  How do I know?  That's what I see when I look in the mirror.  What am I?  Hope you're sitting down.  I'm a human, just like you.  Well, not exactly like you, obviously, but let's just say we have the same apes in our family tree.  In fact, you might be in mine. I don't know.

If I'm from Earth, why don't I look more like you?  I don't know all the science of it. That's not really my forte.  It has to do with a thousand years of evolution, medicines that manipulate DNA, a selective breeding program a few hundred years before me, and a different lifestyle.  My kind didn't need the muscles. We have robots to lift heavy things. We need bigger brains, so we've got bigger heads.  We spend a lot of time indoors and in space, so we aren't quite as pink as you are.  That, and those genetic manipulations altered our skin and bones a bit.  So, just like a caveman might think you look pretty alien, I look that way to you.  Same thing, more or less.

What really happened in Roswell?  That's not the interesting bit.  No really, it's not.  Does a car crash on your way home from work really interest you that much?  Neither should Roswell.  The really interesting bits are what happened before and after that crash.  But hang on.  This is going to get confusing.  Bear with me.

The story actually starts about fifteen hundred years after the crash in 1947.  Mankind, my version of it, can travel faster than light.  We've been out there exploring the galaxy for probably a hundred years.  We'd found a few microbes and plants, but no sign of aliens.  Not so much as an insect.

About two years before I was released from the clone chamber... I didn't mention I was cloned, did I?  Well, now you know.  As I was saying, about two years before I was released, the scientists started buzzing about finding evidence of advanced alien life.  Far out past our furthest outpost, they found abandoned alien cities, historic records, and even some badly decayed remains.  We'd always suspected we weren't the only sentient beings in the universe, but in all our exploration, this was the first time we'd actually found any evidence.  It was a big deal.

It didn't take the scientists long to start worrying, though.  It was pretty clear that the aliens we found, the Scolarans, weren't the only ones out there.  The Scolarans had died a pretty violent death at the hands of another alien race.  This other race appeared in a few records made right before the Scolarans died out.  The other race was big, probably two meters tall, plus a little.  They were muscular, well armed and armored, and from the footage that survived, very violent.  We didn't find any of their remains.  That should tell you something about them.

The Scolarans, the race that had been wiped out, weren’t all that different from us.  They were a bit more husky, like you are to me, but were intelligent, peaceful explorers.  The other race, whose name we didn't know, seemed to come out of nowhere and just obliterate the Scolarans.  Were they still out there?  Were they watching us, waiting to attack?  We didn't know, but we had to assume they were.  We were peaceful, not stupid.

Although we didn't just sit around waiting for an attack, we also weren't really ready for one, either.  We hadn't made weapons in centuries.  Given the way things are on Earth today, I wouldn't be surprised if you don't believe me, but the only weapons we had were designed to pacify the occasional animal.  Very few were lethal, and those were mostly associated with food production, not self-defense or warfare.  We simply didn't need weapons.  For us, violent crime really didn't exist and we'd not had a war in at least three hundred years.

Our scientists dredged up the old weapon designs we had on file and tried to make sense of them.  They struggled with the barbarity of it all.  It was difficult enough for them to fathom the need to intentionally harm another sentient being, and much more so to imagine killing that being.  They petitioned our leaders to attempt diplomacy and stopped work on weapons projects.

The leaders had no choice but to bow to these demands, such was how our society worked.  They knew that if the aliens were out there, eventually they would attack one of our outposts.  They prepared a fleet of thirty ships, ready to leave on a moment’s notice, if one of our colonies failed to report in.  It wasn’t long before that happened, and the fleet was dispatched.  It sent out messages asking to open a dialogue with whoever might be listening.

What happened next became known as The Massacre.  The alien ships, seeming to appear out of nowhere, opened fire.  Their first volley destroyed twenty-five of the thirty ships.  Their next volley disabled the FTL and life support systems on the rest.  Within minutes, the aliens boarded the final five ships and killed every surviving member of the crew.  The last image in the sensor logs was of our ships being pulled inside the alien craft.

The alien craft were like nothing we'd ever seen.  The largest of them were the size of moons.  All of them moved quickly and gracefully, like birds of prey or sharks in the water.

It didn't take long for the leaders and scientists to realize that negotiation seemed to be the furthest thing from the aliens' minds.  They went back to work to create new weapons from what little we had.  As a new weapon was developed, the robots produced it, and we shipped it out to the colonies as quickly as possible.  It was wasted effort.  The aliens continued to slaughter one colony after another.

We did manage to capture one of the alien soldiers, though.  The scientists learned to communicate with it.  This only seemed to increase the gravity of our situation.  The Markot, as the aliens called themselves, were a deeply religious species.  A core tenet of their belief system was that their planet held the only true life in the universe.  All other life was evil and must be destroyed.  Try as they might, the scientists and diplomats could not convince the Markot soldier otherwise.  Broadcasting a similar message of understanding and peace in the Markot language to one of their fleets had only the effect of delaying the attack by a few seconds.  I imagine they thought it strange that an inferior alien race could speak their language, but this didn't stop then from killing our people.

Despite our peaceful nature, we resigned ourselves to the fact that we had no choice but to engage the Markot on the battlefield.  The more-naive among us thought that a few military victories might open the way to negotiation and further dialogue.  It didn't. If anything, it made them come back and hit even harder.

Independent of the war effort, one of our research labs worked out a way to travel through time.  Don't ask me how it works. Not my forte, remember?  We realized that Earth's violent history might hold the key to stopping the Markot invasion.  Our plan was to steal a few weapon designs and samples from the late twenty first century, and replicate them in ours.  We hoped they'd give us a fighting chance.

Unfortunately, a Markot scout ship followed us through the time vortex.  This, they tell me, threw off the mass and energy computations for the time vortex.  Instead of popping out in 2087 we found ourselves in 1947... Roswell.  So did the Markot.  Their parting shot caused us to crash on some farmland.  We must have gotten really lucky with our last shot, because their ship blew up.  I still don't know how that happened.  It was a fluke, I suspect.

Our ship crashed into some farmland.  There were three of us aboard.  Yancey-317, our pilot, died during the crash.  Bailey-183, the scientist, was badly injured.  His legs were burned, one of his arms broken, and he took quite a blow to the head when one of the main supports gave way.  He was still alive, but it was hard to tell how long he’d remain that way.  Having been trained as a soldier and medic, I did what I could to stabilize him, and carried him outside the ship.

It wasn’t long before a convoy of US Army vehicles appeared.  They cordoned off the crash site and began gathering up all the debris.  They kept weapons trained on us from the moment they saw us.  Bailey-183 and I were loaded into the back of a truck and driven to the military base. 

From what I’ve been able to piece together, since I wasn’t a part of it, the military originally announced that they’d captured a flying saucer.   It took a while for us to learn to communicate. Once we did, the Army realized we weren’t aliens.  We were something far more valuable, time travelers.  They didn’t want to share that knowledge with the rest of the world, so they changed their tune.  They told people it wasn’t a flying saucer that crashed in the desert, but some kind of weather balloon. 

For the next few years, we were locked away in an underground bunker at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.  They tried to find ways to bribe us, torture us, interrogate us, and intimidate us.  We knew that as time travelers we had the power to screw up the future.  We answered basic questions about ourselves, such as where and when we came from, and our names.  That was all.

I never saw Bailey-183 alive after that.  I don’t know if his injuries got the better of him, or if some of their tactics killed him.  They took me to see him as he was dying.  All he could say to me was “Help them.”

I couldn’t read the intent in his mind. He might have been warning me, like “Help them or you’ll end up dead like me.”  He might have concluded that the best way to save our kind in the future was to help you here in the past.  Or maybe he meant that they needed help to avoid becoming us, or ending up in our situation.  I never knew for sure what he meant.  I decided that maybe it was all three.  I needed to help present-day humans so that they wouldn’t kill me and I had the best chance of preventing the future I’d left behind… one where it was now almost certain that The Markot had killed us all.

The thing is, I couldn’t be much help.  Bailey could have shared all kinds of scientific knowledge, like how we traveled faster than light, how we eliminated cancer, how we were able to clone ourselves, and a million other things.  Yancey might have been able to explain the aerodynamics of our now-defunct spacecraft and shown them how to fly it, if it’d been intact.  But me?  I was a new class of clone that was being developed to serve as soldiers.  Your twentieth-century soldiers knew more about weapons, strategies, and tactics than we did. 

I wasn’t totally useless, of course.  When they brought me parts of the ship, I could explain to them what it was – at least sometimes.  Once in a while, I knew how something worked, the same way you might be able to explain a lightbulb or a television to someone who had never seen one.  They would get frustrated when I couldn’t explain how to repair the thing or make a new one, but they understood that I was trying to cooperate.

In time, the visits became less and less frequent.  The questions were less intense.  Then, I think they pretty much forgot about me.  I must have left them with a bit of a quandary.  They didn’t want me to die, because I might still have some value to them one day.  They couldn’t just let me go, because I looked too much like the little gray aliens in the media.  So they kept me in a little cell, fed me three meals a day, and kind of forgot about me.

I don’t know how long that went on.  Then, one day this general and his entourage shows up.  They take me out of the cell and into a conference room.  There’s a lot of chattering and whispering going on.  I try reading a few surface thoughts, but all I can get it is a vague of mix confusion, excitement, and fear.  Someone motions to a seat at the end of the conference table.  I sit down.  So does this general and his group of cronies, and a few officers I recognize from the base.

“I understand you communicate through telepathy,” the general said.

“Yes,” I broadcast into his mind, “I can project language, but I can’t read it out of your heads.”
He nodded.  “Alright,” he said, unlocking a laptop computer with an iris and fingerprint scan.  I’d seen a few others like it over the years, usually in the hands of somebody like this guy.  He taps a bit at the keyboard and spins the display around in my direction.  “Have you seen one of these?”
I looked at the image and felt a chill.  It was a Markot craft, one of their smaller ones, like the one that followed us through the time vortex.  “Yes.  Where did you get that image?”

“That’s not important.  What can you tell us about it?”

“It looks like Markot technology, but not any ship configuration I remember.  The Markot were slaughtering us in my time.  They’re the reason I was sent back to the past.  We were looking for weapons to fight them.  We had few in our time, and had lost the ability to make them.”

The general nodded.  “Yes, I read that in the files.  What else can you tell me?”

“The fact that you have a picture of this leads me to believe you’ve found one of these on Earth. Is that correct?”

“Yes.  It landed in Roswell, not far from where we found you back in 1947.  We tracked it from orbit until it landed, and sent in a squad to investigate.  We found the empty ship.  No one aboard.”

The chill I felt earlier became a full-blown shudder.

“I take it you think this is a problem?”  he asked.

“It is.  If that ship landed safely, the scouts are already on Earth.  They’ll see that you don’t look anything like us, and maybe not like anything they’ve seen before.  They’ll keep their distance for a while, gathering intelligence about you.  Then they’ll strike.  If they win that initial encounter, they’ll call in more ships and start a full-scale attack.”

The general turned the laptop around to face himself.  “There’s something I don’t understand.”
“What’s that, general?”

“You said that mankind never met any alien life until you encountered these… Markot.  Right?”


“And that’s fifteen hundred years from now?”

I nodded my head.

“What are they doing here, now?”

That was a very good question.  The Markot certainly didn’t know Earth existed prior to our first encounter with them.  They hadn’t even found it by the time I’d left to come to the past.  I could only think of one reason.

“This is just my theory, but I think there are two likely situations.  The first is that one or more of the Markot that followed us through the time vortex survived the destruction of their ship.  They have managed to remain undetected and signal their homeworld.  The other is that they died in the crash, but were able to signal their homeworld before doing so.”

The general shook his head.  “But why are they here now?  It’s seventy years later.”

I thought about that for a moment.  Had I been here seventy years?  Humans, the ones from my time, can certainly live to over two hundred and fifty years.  It was a long time.  “Perhaps it took them a while to cobble together a transmitter, or perhaps it took that long for a signal to reach their homeworld.  Even if the signal got there quickly, look at this from their viewpoint.  You’re the Markot, going about your business exploring the galaxy and eliminating all other life you encounter because you believe you’re the only real life in the universe.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, you receive a signal.  The signal’s in your language, on a frequency you use, and it’s sharing some seemingly legitimate military information.  At the very least, you’re confused because you’re sure you’ve never sent any ships anywhere near that world.  Is it some kind of trap?  Is it a fake signal, or a real signal that just seems to be coming from an unfamiliar place?  You don’t know.  Remember, that ship and crew doesn’t exist yet.  It won’t exist for over a thousand years. It’s got to be suspicious and confusing.  Still, because you believe you’re the only real life in the universe, you’ve got to send a crew to check it out.”

“That’s what you think this is?”

“I’ve seen Markot ships before.  I was even inside one once.  This looks like one, but not quite like the ones I’m familiar with.  My guess is that this is what a Markot ship looked like centuries before we encountered them.”

The general locked eyes with me.  “You believe this is a threat?”

“Yes,” I broadcast to him.  “If you’ll let me, I’m going to try something I haven’t tried with the people from your time.  I’d like to show you images of the Markot and the ships they used.  I don't know if it will work, or if it will hurt you.  I'll stop if you seem to be in discomfort.  Please let your people know this is not an attack.”

He nodded, then turned to his people.  “He’s going to try to send me some images.  He says it might be uncomfortable for me."

“I’ll start with something simple to see if this works.  Here’s what the Markot look like.”
I concentrated on the image of the Markot and gently pushed the image toward him.  When I opened my eyes, he was holding his head.

“Are you OK?”  I asked.

“Yes.”   He rubbed his temples.  “I saw it.  Big.  Ugly.  Lots of armor.  Kind of looks like a boar.”  He turned to his aide.  "Aspirin.  This hurts like a hangover."

“I don’t know what a boar is, general, but it sounds like you got the image.  Do you want to see more?”

I could see concern in the faces of his people.  One of them opened her mouth to speak, but he raised a hand to stop her.  “Yes.  I need to know all you can show me.”

“It may help if you relax, sir.  Try to clear your head and when the image starts coming, don’t try to force it.  Just let it coalesce.  Here’s a Markot ship.”  I sent the image, and looked at the general.  I could tell it was uncomfortable for him, but he didn’t let his people see it.

“Keep it coming,” he told me.

I shared a few more images, of worlds the Markot had slaughtered, battles I'd seen.  I couldn't show much, though.  I could see the strain it was putting him under.  

“Perhaps we can reason with them?” the general asked.

“Our people tried that.”  I sent him images of The Massacre. He looked as though he was going to faint.  I couldn't send anything else.

“If that happened to you, with your technology, then you’re right.  We don’t stand a chance.  Would their ship be of any value to us?”

“Perhaps, if we could gain access to it—“

The general stood up and walked to the windows on the side of the room to my left.  He pressed a button on the wall next to them, and the blinds over them raised.  He motioned to me to join him.  I got up from the chair and walked to the window.  He pointed downward.  Apparently, the conference room was located above a hangar on the base.  Inside the hangar was the same scout ship he’d shown me the picture of a moment earlier.

The general turned to me.  “You were saying?”

“If we had access to it, we might be able to use it to help locate the crew.  I can’t speak for the Markot, but we had scanners that would enable us to identify lifeforms on a planet.  Given the Markot’s penchant for destruction of non-Markot life, they might well have them too.  If so, we could use the scanners to separate human from Markot and find out where they are.”

The general turned to his people and told them to take me to the Markot scout ship.  Before I could react, they’d grabbed me by the armpits and were carrying me toward the hangar.

“I can walk,” I told the general.

“Not as fast as we can,” he shouted from behind me.  He was right.

When we got to the hangar, we stopped just outside the Markot ship.  Standing there looking at it, something didn’t feel right.  I looked at the hull, then touched it.  It was smooth, and didn’t seem to be made of the thick plating I’d seen on the Markot ships in my time.   Even with my limited strength, I could press hard enough to make the skin of the craft flex.  Something was nagging at me, but I couldn't focus on it.


It took him a moment to catch his breath.  I guess he couldn’t run all that fast, either.


“Tell me more about how and where you found this.”  I didn’t have hair, but if I had it would have been standing up on the back of my neck.

“We tracked it from space, all the way to the ground.  It landed in Roswell, about where your craft was picked up in '47.  We had Blackhawk helicopters on the scene within minutes.  We searched for the crew but couldn’t find them, so we loaded the ship on a truck and brought it here.”

I nodded.  “It was open, like it is now?”


“And there were no Markot aboard?”

“Not one.”

That made no sense.  They should have been scouting the area, killing everyone they saw.  That was how they worked.  “You searched for them?”

“We searched half the county around that ship.  We didn’t find so much as a footprint.”

“I’m going aboard to get some answers.  I recommend the rest of you stay out here.”

“Like hell we will!  That thing—“

“Might very well be booby-trapped.  The Markot might be hiding inside waiting to ambush you.  I know you’ve got no reason to trust me,” I told him, locking my eyes onto his, “but please do.  If I’m right, this ship may be more dangerous than you can imagine.”

“Alright,” he said, handing me something.  “But you wear this.  We want to see what you see.”
I looked at the thing, a strap with a camera attached.  It was too small to strap around my head, so I strapped it around my chest instead.  I nodded in his direction, then turned and walked up the ramp into the Markot ship.

The general seemed to think the Markot couldn’t have gotten away from their search.  Maybe that was true, maybe it wasn’t.  I’d be careful, but if there were Markot aboard, an unarmed, unarmored future-human like me wasn’t going to stand a chance.  Then again, maybe it was just rigged to explode and blow the entire planet to bits.  That was a cheery thought.

Inside, I realized the ship would be easy to search.  There were no other rooms or compartments.  There were computer displays, five chairs, and a few wall-mounted cabinets.  Given the size of the Markot, I knew there was nowhere they could be hiding aboard... certainly not in the cabinets.  They were empty anyway.

The center chair was larger and constructed with a higher back than the others.  The armrests had controls of some kind mounted to them.  It had to have been the commander’s seat.  I walked toward it, passing the two stations to its left. 

While the general’s men would have to put effort into reading the Markot language in the video footage they were undoubtedly getting from me, I had no such difficulty.  I’d been flash-fed the language while still in the clone chamber. 

The leftmost station appeared to be the navigation console.  The display contained course coordinates and flashed the Markot words for “Course plotted and locked.”  The Markot we’d captured didn’t seem particularly bright, so it didn’t surprise me that their navigation controls would be fairly simple and straightforward.  They probably just hit a button marked “go” to fly to the world they were about to exterminate and another marked “home” when they were done.

Next to the navigation station was a weapons console.  Its status flashed in red, and said “Inoperable. Uninstalled.”  That made no sense at all.  Why launch a scout mission to Earth with an unarmed ship?
I was standing next to the captain’s seat.  I walked in front of it and looked down at the console.  It, too, had a flashing display.  I read the words and the pieces fell into place.  I walked back outside to the general and his people.  He eyed me suspiciously.

“You saw something in there.  What?”

I turned to look at him.  “General, that last screen I looked at.  It told me everything I needed to know.  Do not send your men into that ship.”

He made a hand gesture.  I turned and saw two soldiers back away from the hatch.  I scowled at him.
“General, there’s a reason you never found the Markot.  They were never aboard that ship.  It’s been sent here on autopilot.  They’ve stripped off the armor and ripped out the weapons so it can’t be used against them.  It’s not here to scout Earth for invasion.  It’s here to either bring their lost soldiers home or capture a sample of the heretical alien beings capable of deceiving them in their own tongue.”

“Then I’ll get a unit of Green Berets, we’ll arm them to the teeth and—“

I shook my head.  “If you do that, Earth is doomed.  Not just your Earth, but mine, too.  Your soldiers would be killed within minutes of stepping out of the hatch, and the Markot will swarm this planet.  No, there’s really only one way to end this.”

“Right,” he said, turning to his aide.  “Patterson, get one of the nukes in here.”

I shook my head again.  “No.  Even if this ship makes it to the Markot homeworld and you manage to detonate a nuclear weapon there, it won’t save you.  It might delay their invasion a bit, but they have colonies on other worlds.  They’ll come, eventually.”

“I still haven’t heard your bright idea yet.”

I needed to take control of the situation before the general's men let their curiosity overtake them and entered the ship.

“General, it will take too long to explain.  I need to send you the thoughts and images of my plan.  Tell your people that’s what I’m doing.  Tell them that once I share the plan, you’re probably going to feel faint.  It’s a lot to communicate, more than I shared with you in the conference room.  I don’t think we have the time to do it slowly.  You should probably sit down.  Then, I need to go aboard the ship again.  Tell them… no, order them not to follow me.”

He looked at me.  I couldn’t read his mind, but I knew he was wondering what game I was playing.  He wondered if I could be trusted.  I kept looking in his eyes.  He stared into mine for what seemed like an hour.  Then he motioned for a chair and sat down as I'd asked.

He turned to his aide.  “In a minute, he’s going to show me his plan.  He says I might pass out, and that’s probably true.  Once he’s shared the plan, he’s got to go back aboard to put it in motion.” 

The general turned to the rest of his soldiers. “You are all under direct orders not to interfere with him or follow him aboard that ship unless I order you to.”

I hoped the general would forgive me for what I did next.  I needed to be sure that he was incapacitated until well after I got aboard the Markot scout ship.  I didn’t want him ordering anyone in after me once he knew my real plan.  So I sent him the works.  I sent him everything we knew about the Markot.  I sent him their language, in case I was wrong about the ship and they encountered others.  I sent him images of my time, the Roswell crash, and everything else I could throw at him until he was unconscious. 

I turned to his aide and sent the message, “He knows everything now.  I must get back aboard to complete the plan.  You are all in danger. I recommend moving to a safe distance.”

“What’s a safe distance?”

Hearing this, the others began backing away from the ship quickly.

“Outside the hangar, I hope,” I told her, and walked back into the Markot ship.

I sat down in the captain’s chair, then looked at the display again.  “Message waiting,” it said.  I touched the screen.  The hatch slammed shut.  The ship lifted off, and began its ascent toward space.
The display crackled to life.  The hazy electronic image of a Markot filled the air in front of me.  I could have predicted what it was about to say.

“I am Doctor Nymor,” it said.  “My people are called the Markot.  Our sacred texts tell us that ours is the only true life in the universe.  When we received a signal from your world, we knew that either some of our brethren were marooned there, or that the texts are wrong.  The craft you are aboard was sent to your world to find the truth.  When its scanners found no evidence of our people or our technology, we had our answer.  Your world must be related to ours.  We are bringing you to us.  We mean you no harm, but be clear that we will allow you to commit no harm to us.  You will notice that this ship has no weaponry, no defenses, and cannot be taken off course.  Please enjoy the ride.  You will be with us soon, and we will all know the truth.  If you wish to communicate during your journey, you may do using the controls on the seat in which you now sit.”

How did I know this would be the Markot message?  It was written all over the ship.  No, not in words, images, or recordings.  It was written in pure intent.  Everything about the ship screamed two words that I doubt anyone in my time would have ascribed to the Markot.  It said “curiosity” and “caution”.  The open door suggested that they thought someone might be enticed to come inside.  The lack of armor, weapons, and navigation showed that while they expected someone aboard, they weren’t ready to trust them yet.  From the results of their scans of Earth and my playing of the message, they knew two things about me that they’d hoped to find out.  I wasn’t Markot by biology and yet I understood their language.

I glanced over at the navigation console.  It seemed to say we had a very long journey ahead of us.

I thought my mission had failed.  I’d never be able to bring weapons back to my time to save Earth from the Markot, but maybe I wouldn’t have to.  Maybe I could bring back something better… peace.

(If you'd like to provide feedback about this story, you can use the survey form to do it.)

About the Author

Michael Salsbury / Author & Editor

In his day job, Michael Salsbury helps administer over 1,800 Windows desktop computers for a Central Ohio non-profit. When he's not working, he's writing, blogging, podcasting, home brewing, or playing "warm furniture" to his two Bengal cats.


Post a Comment