Author's note: This is a short excerpt from a novel I shall be writing soon
When I was ten years old, I saw a UFO.
I was at school then, gazing outside the window, counting the minutes to lunch. This lecture never seemed to end. Wasn’t it time for lunch already?
The sky in the horizon rippled, looking like waves. As if someone was making the sky shift, maneuvering it with inhumane force. The rippling stopped, leaving behind stark silence. There was no trace of what had taken place moments ago. I hadn’t suspected anything. I was too young to understand what it could be.
A streak of white lit the atmosphere, almost like lightning, but numerous times brighter. I recoiled and clamped my eyes shut. When I opened them again, I realized none of the others had seen it. My curiosity stirred, I peered up again. I was neither scared nor shocked. I was merely interested.
The sky was back to normal, sunshine shooting through clouds and falling over the landscape. As if that flash of light had never transpired.
Immediately after, a metallic body appeared in sight, in an aperture amid the clouds. It hovered there for a few seconds, tilted and visible to anyone who would have looked up. I gasped and it occurred to me. A UFO. Weren’t UFOs real? Hadn’t people spotted them before?
Two hands, looking very much like a human being’s, descended from the crystalline alien object. It paused for a moment.
Then it clapped at me, before disappearing.
Sure, it could have been meant for somebody else strolling about in the streets. I wasn’t the only one in the city after all.
But I felt it. A deep tugging sensation. I was certain that the clap from the sky was for me.
Of course, no one believed me. They assumed I was out for a bit of mischief. But I was not. They had better things to do than believe a ten-year-old who claimed she had seen an alien.
Alayna, they told me, there are no such things as ‘aliens’. Now go and do your homework.
I refused to think that what I had seen in my imagination. Yet, it wasn’t normal for me to catch sight of something in broad daylight which a whole city had overlooked.
I should have known then, that I would never be trusted. Not a strange child like me, who never seemed to fit in with people.
You could say the sighting made me interested in space. The memory of the hand remained. I wanted to know who it was, how they had accomplished this, and what took place that day.
Over the years since then, there had been several advances in astronautics. The first man stepped on mars. A spaceship was developed, one that was faster than anything before. People began using that for expeditions into space. Unmanned excursions were sent to explore other planets. Six of them were sent out of the solar system, with only one or two returning.
This was when we figured out we were better off exploring our own solar system for a while. Whatever lay beyond was far too unknown.
Or at least that’s what the world thought.
Meanwhile, what had happened to ten-year-old Alayna Martin?
Well, I wasn’t ten now. I was much older, and not so naïve as then. I had raced through my school years, growing more and more enraptured by space. I went to university and graduated with honors. My goal was to travel into space and unmask its secrets.
I had to become an astronaut.
I suppose that was why I was here today, undergoing intensive training as a juvenile in an astronautics center.
Right now, I was inside the institute, waiting outside my boss’s quarters. He had summoned me with something to tell related to the recent interest on a faraway planet Ceztor-X.
“Miss Martin.” came a rough voice, “You may come in.”
“Mr. Jay?” I inquired. This man had been on a mission to Mars. He had earned that respect.
“We’ve been conducting research now, on the planet Ceztor-X.” he began, “And we’ve got some information. You do remember the missions outside our solar system?”
“Yes, Mr. Jay.”
“It’s been a while.” he continued, “It would be wise to begin explorations again. My team has come up with a decision.” He paused, “We plan to send a manned mission to Ceztor-X soon.”
A manned voyage to another solar system was something that had never been done. Didn’t Mr. Jay see the danger?
“I assume, Miss Martin, that you’d like to come on this mission.” Mr. Jay’s face was devoid of any humor.
I had to stop my jaw from dropping to the ground.
Me, to go on a voyage to Ceztor-X.
Yet, this prospect delighted me. Underneath all my qualms, the young child in me was alive, who answered before I could stop her: “Yes.”
I was now a part of one of the most treacherous expeditions ever to take place.
Wait, I thought, wasn’t that why I became an astronaut?
* * *
Twenty-eight months later…
The spaceship lurched as it nosedived, entering the orbit of Ceztor-X. A rolling landscape was below us, looking as if it had been set on fire. In the horizon, a pinprick of luminous light greeted us. The nearest star.
I couldn’t believe the journey of seven months was over. I was grateful we were alive. It had not been easy. I had been engulfed with a fear I had not known existed.
Those disturbances along the way. No wonder I had terrible nightmares every day. Anything could’ve happened, from slight turbulences to the whole spacecraft exploding.
But we had made it, which was all that mattered.
As we plunged into the atmosphere, I risked a glimpse at the three other crew who had come along. Mr. Jay was, of course, one of them. Then there was the controller, murmuring a prayer under his breath. When he wasn’t in the control room, he freaked out, as if something disastrous would happen the second he turned the other way.
In the far corner, sat a woman, several years younger than me, looking around with fascination. She creeped me out, to be honest. She caught my gaze and a long smile twisted itself on her face. I quickly averted my eyes. She was Tamara, just another newbie, setting out into space for the first time. Mr. Jay was the only experienced one here.
A deafening sound welcomed my ears, with a drop in pressure so steep I could barely breathe even with my spacesuit on. I felt the spacecraft give a strong jolt, moving downwards. The planet was ahead of us now, stretching for miles. My vision turned blurry and my heartbeat quickened. This was expected. We had been trained for it.
The atmosphere, or what we knew of it, was the reason. Entering it would require a few moments of blackout for travelers. It wasn’t like anything on Earth. Even a tiny bit of the air here would prove to be poisonous or even fatal to human beings. That is why we had been equipped with tanks and tanks of oxygen, and several layers of protection under spacesuits.
When I opened my eyes again, we were on stable ground, though still in our spacecraft. I was still fastened to my seat-belt. As my vision cleared, I realized that the other astronauts were up and about, ready to get moving. Mr. Jay was instructing something to the controller in loud tones. Tamara was looking at me, her stare burning holes on my face. For a moment, I caught sight of something flashing in her eyes, but she quickly averted her gaze.
“Do you think we might encounter aliens here, Alayna?” she asked, in hollow tones.
“I don’t know.” I said. She was trying to change the topic.
That question. I had never told her or anybody else my fascination with the existence of creatures on another planet. Yet, she seemed to possess knowledge of that.
And my name. How did she know that? People at our research center always stuck to ‘Miss Martin’.
I shuddered. I had never met someone like her. I had to stay far from her.
I unbuckled my seat-belt and join the hurdle beside the exit. I could see smog twist around outside, opaque and a dull purple. Nothing was visible for several miles, except a few obscure shadows in the skyline. It was supposed to be below freezing.
Mr. Jay appeared bothered.
“This wasn’t expected.” He said, “That’s why we came here. Out of all other planets, why does it have to be this one?”
A dreadful feeling rose inside me.
“Other life.” Said Mr. Jay, glowering, “Evidence of another species.”
I was stunned, as he continued: “A find, yes. A great find. But it could have waited.”
“Aliens?” I said, out of breath, “Real aliens?”
“Of course real!” the boss looked like he was going to explode, “Terrible fate. Wrong choice.”
“Do you mean we shouldn’t have come?” the controller asked, his eyes huge.
“I never go back on my word.” Mr. Jay remained obstinate, “We have come this far. We have to go on.”
I understood what those shadows outside were. They were moving around, some of them swift and the others slow. They hadn’t seen us yet, thank goodness.
“They can’t see us!” the controller said, lingering behind, as if he wished to stay inside.
“They won’t do anything to us.” Tamara said, her face glowing. I caught a glimpse of her. She looked elated. Ever since Mr. Jay had announced the presence of aliens.
We assembled behind the exit, my heart in my mouth. Now that I knew there were indeed aliens in Ceztor-X, I felt as if I were flying. Something added up. The UFO and clapping hand I had seen those years ago, and this revelation. It felt connected.
We stepped out, without any fear of being seen. Either Mr. Jay thought the aliens weren’t of any harm, or he presumed them to be weaker than us. I suppose it was the latter. He had his weapon with him: the latest revolver, which came with dozens of features. The controller was armed with a couple of devices himself. Tamara was empty-handed, swinging her arms by her side. Strange. Didn’t she want to guard herself against any unexpected attacks?
As I didn’t want to look dubious, I brought out my own weapon. Here we were, human beings trespassing into an alien community but acting as if we were the ones being targeted. I had no interest in colonizing this planet. We had done enough damage to Earth. Who would want to wish the same for another planet?
Our spacesuits were designed to shift themselves for our purpose. They weren’t heavy like the suits worn at the beginning of space-age.
We set foot on land, floating. Gravity was nearly non-existing here. Mr. Jay set our spaceship to camouflage itself while we were away. The four of us, propped with necessities started our trail southwards.
Through the setting darkness, I could see the shapes stirring faster. They made me feel nostalgic. I started feeling that same force tugging at me from inside, pulling me towards the aliens. Beside me, Tamara kept quick on her feet, wearing her creepy smile. Looking at that made me queasy. Why was she acting like she was visiting someplace familiar?
“It’s a marketplace.” Tamara said, “An alien marketplace. How splendid!”
She sounded eager. Not like a dignified astronaut. Did she think we were on a fun field trip?
Tamara stretched her arms and closed her eyes. Her spacesuit reshaped itself to look shadowy with life-like patterns on it. She saw me looking at her and said smoothly:
“We have to disguise ourselves to blend with those aliens.”
I heard her clearly again even though we were both in our own spacesuits. This was getting abominable. How in the world did she know how those aliens looked?
“I can see them from here.” This time, her voice rang straight in my ears, “That’s how I know.”
Yet, the shapes were still too far away to be discerned. Ignoring my uneasiness, I followed Tamara, altering my spacesuit, too. A few feet away, Mr. Jay and the controller were too busy to notice what we were doing. Neither of us did anything to alert them on what we were doing.
The more we moved, the more energized I felt. This wasn’t like anything I had ever experienced. Throughout my life, I had felt unmotivated to do anything except become an astronaut. The only other time I had felt this way was when I was ten years old.
When I had seen the UFO.
My heart began fluttering. I grew conscious of Tamara’s presence beside me. The knowledge she portrayed was far too intricate and deep. I was certain there was something more to her.
Space made no sense. The marketplace which had seemed so distant was now just blocks away. The aliens moved in and out of towering structures, energy buzzing in the air. When we were close enough, Tamara and I dove into the gathering. Tamara had gripped my arm, her fingers digging into my skin. We had lost Mr. Jay and the controller somewhere. Anyway, I didn’t think they would care.
None of the aliens realized that there were humans in their midst. I was partly relieved. Everything was a strange array of cool colors, several stores set up, similar to the ones on Earth. I felt more at ease when my gaze moved over each assortment of artifacts kept open.
We moved through the crowd, lost to the universe. Not a single alien observed us, which made me twitchy. I could hear a faint voice in my head that clamored for recognition. It kept pleading on and on for me to do something outrageous to grab attention. I tried my hardest to shun it.
Tamara’s hold around my arm turned harsher, and I resisted the urge to yank it away. My rationality told me not to make any sudden movement lest we were spotted.
“So many years ago.” Tamara said, wistfully gazing at the landscape around us, “It has been nineteen years, Alayna.”
I became rigid. What did she mean? Nineteen years since what?
Nineteen years ago, I was ten.
I suddenly found that I couldn’t bear her any longer. I wrenched my arm away and began running from her.
“You can’t get away, Alayna!” hearing Tamara’s voice made me want to scream, “You can run all you want, but I shall find you in the end.”
The universe around me stopped. Aliens froze midair, the purple mist swirled no more and my legs couldn’t move. Where were Mr. Jay and the controller? Where were the aliens? In an instant of horror, I realized I was on empty land. I fell to my knees.
Tamara was standing right beside, towering over me. She flashed her smile.
“Who are you?” I asked, my voice squeaking, “Why do you want this?”
“Do you remember?” Tamara asked through the silence, “Do you remember, Alayna?”
I opened my mouth but no sound came out. I was paralyzed, my arms struck out in defense. The gale around us began swirling faster, nothing else visible now.
What? I thought, What?
“I mean,” Tamara spoke right into my mind, her eyes on fire, “do you remember this?” she held up both her hands.
And began clapping.
The UFO. The mysterious hand that clapped at me and disappeared soon after.
It was Tamara.
“But how?” my voice was weak, “You must have been what, five?” even as I said it, I knew it couldn’t be true. How could a kindergartner be aboard a UFO?
“Ceztor-X.” Tamara spread her arms, her face facing the nebulous sky, “My home. The planet where we don’t age. The planet where some of us look like human beings.”
I began edging away from her. The world around started spinning. I had hundreds of questions. Was Tamara an alien herself? Was that why she possessed such flawless knowledge about Ceztor-X and its inhabitants? What was her intent? Where did this apply to me?
“Leave me alone!” I said, with all the energy I could muster.
“You didn’t understand.” Tamara looked disappointed, all her strength gone, “Did you?”
I remembered all those moments at home when I had felt I wouldn’t fit in. All those years I spent isolated, the way I liked it. I remembered the tugging sensation when I saw the UFO, and when I landed on this planet. The calm which had enveloped me when I was in the marketplace.
I knew, but yet, I shook my head. “Let me go.” I repeated.
Tamara shook her head, “You will regret it, but if that is what you wish,” she clapped her hand, the sound roaring in my ears.
The next moment, I was back in the spaceship, strapped to my seat. Mr. Jay and the controller were there, too. But Tamara wasn’t anywhere.
“We’re heading back.” Mr. Jay said, “Something has gone wrong. We have to leave. Immediately.”
“Tamara?” I said, “What about Tamara?”
“Who?” asked Mr. Jay incredulously, “Miss Martin, I don’t know any Tamara. All I know is the moment the three of us stepped out, we were in danger. There were hidden receptors all around. The only option left is to escape while we can.”
The spaceship roared to life, lifting in the air. I sat limply on my seat. Reality felt like a dream and the dream felt distant. I knew what had happened was for real, but still, that left a lot of unanswered questions.
Ceztor-X was where Tamara belonged, and it was where I should have been.
It was my home.
The spaceship began speeding through space, leaving the planet behind.
“Home.” I whispered, unheard to anybody.
I realized I would never see it again.