Joe stood behind Katie, who leaned forward, watching the film play on his laptop. He could smell the coconut shampoo she used, and for the first time since the ship crashed to the ground, his brain wasn’t exclusively focused on aliens. She focused on the screen.
“Wow. That’s him. That’s who I saw.”
“At the hangar, like I said. That’s who I saw there.”
Katie turned and realized how closely they were positioned. She gave him a demure half-smile, and slid to the left for a bit more space. He straightened up, cleared his throat, and tried to appear nonplussed.
“Yeah, uh, like I said. I met him here. Talked to him, as you can see. His name is Erke.”
“That’s what he told me.”
Katie looked back at the video which continued to run. The major walked into the frame for the first time. She pointed at the moving image.
“He must have been the one interviewing Erke and giving orders to the others.”
Joe glanced at the man as well.
“Yeah, he was running the show here.”
Katie watched the silent actors converse for another minute, and then spun back to talk to Joe. His eyes met hers, and he spoke first.
“It’s nice to see you again.”
Katie looked down and kicked at the upturned corner of an area rug.
“You too Joe.”
The room was quiet, as the two-week lack of communication wedged its way between them.
“Oh, I called my sister.”
“Ok. What about?”
“This. Him. Erke.”
“I told her I have a film, and asked her what I should do with it.”
“What did she say?”
“Nothing, it’s super early in New York, so she’s still asleep. I asked her to call me as soon as she can, so hopefully we’ll know what to do at that point.”
“Why…are you depending on her to decide that?”
“Abby works as the online media guru for some big marketing company. She would know the best way to get this out. Or, I guess, whether or not we should.”
The possibility that perhaps Joe shouldn’t release the video hadn’t entered his head before that moment. He asked for his sister’s help without considering the reality of what it would mean. His wheels began to turn, but Katie jammed on the brakes.
“We have to tell people! We have to show them this film. I mean, besides what it would mean to the world, it might also be the only way Erke has a chance.”
“You think so?”
“I do. I mean, I think they’ll make him disappear. I don’t want that to happen, and I can tell that you don’t either.”
Joe looked at her and, finally, nodded.
“You need to get this film to your sister so she can do her thing. And then, we have to go back to the base.”
“I don’t know how long they’ll keep him there. I’d bet that within an hour or two, he will be long gone, taken to some underground bunker somewhere. Then, it won’t matter if people see your movie or not. The military will disavow everything. It will just go away. People need to see the real version too!”
He looked at the laptop again. Recorded Erke was being lead into the wagon and driven away. Joe spoke to it, and to Katie.
“I agree. What’s the plan then?”
A new sextet of guards entered the building, relieving the first group. Little changed for Erke apart from that.
He had remained seated on the edge of his cot since the stool was destroyed. Nobody asked him anything, and he didn’t initiate discussion. It was pretty obvious to him that this wasn’t just some odd greeting ritual where he would be kept quarantined for a day before being let loose to travel the planet. No, he was under arrest. They had no intention of letting him go.
There were warnings back on Shifka that got passed around about the earth.
“They would abduct you. They would cut you open. It would be the end of you! Those crazy unsophisticated inhabitants can’t handle the concept of a foreign world.”
Nobody ever told this to him directly. It always came third or fourth hand from some relative of an older generation. Erke chalked it up to the exaggerated storytelling that advancing age and stubborn bias seemed to encourage.
The younger residents of his home talked about earth differently. To them, it seemed a cool, emerging, off the radar place to go, with rough beauty and modestly acceptable amenities. Erke’s school friends spoke of visiting, but none had actually made the voyage. They neither had the degree nor the financial wherewithal to afford such a thing.
From books and surveys they absorbed facts and details that described the human way of life, and spent hours discussing what they learned. While imminent violence was disregarded as fiction, there did seem to be a consensus about the importance of not getting spotted. Humans were a panicky lot, apparently. So, in order to avoid unwelcome attention, some of the more populous areas were out of the question. However, you could still have a good time on the planet if you worked at it. It was seen as a bit of a badge to yearn for the challenging trip.
Someday, they grumbled, these humans would advance enough to make this place a more popular and easy destination. When that happened, more families and retirees would take the voyage from Shifka. That would make this place boring, generic, and utterly uninteresting. His brother Emkie talked often of flying to earth before the tourists ruined it.
Erke never cared enough to join in on the discussion or to even consider the journey. Going somewhere dangerous had no appeal, and he eschewed whatever cache he’d receive from such a declaration.
He looked up through the roof windows to the soft sky beyond, and wondered what his friends and his sibling would think about him beating them here. Erke smiled, imaging the shocked and disappointed faces. They would come to him to ask for details. Those uninformed storytellers would start in about the implants and the dissections, and he could just cut them off with the truth.
But what was the truth? And what will it be?
A cloud passed over the building, allowing temporary shadows to engulf the alien. He brought his gaze down to the door of the hangar, which opened again. The Major stepped through and saluted the group. Erke stood to greet him.