The man looked out the window at the nightly parade of celestial bodies.
Living outside the city saved him from much of the light pollution. And the sky was especially clear tonight. He felt like he could reach out and touch the distant pins of light.
He always loved the stars; he could lose himself while considering their timeless beauty. He was an amateur stargazer, but even he could recognize a change as drastic as this. There seemed to be an extra star in the belt of Orion!
Orion is a prominent constellation and visible throughout the world. It is one of the most conspicuous and recognizable constellations in the night sky with three bright stars forming the belt of the mythical hunter. But tonight, there were four!
The man blinked and rubbed his eyes to be sure he was seeing what he thought he saw.
Then his phone beeped making him aware of a news alert. As he read, it confirmed what his eyes had just seen. "Scientists and astronomers worldwide are baffled by the appearance of a new star in the night sky."
It was just a matter of time before it would be all over the news. The man wanted to be sure this was real. You can't believe everything you hear.
He scrambled to his desk to get his binoculars. But by the time he returned, the star was gone! He searched frantically from right to left and still nothing. Orion again only had three stars in his belt again. His phone beeped with another news alert…the star was gone
Traveling through hyperspace always relaxed her.
She reclined in her captain’s chair and felt the slight vibration that was caused by the ship’s artificial gravity. Her job was fulfilling and prestigious. Planet Assessment and First-contact Analysis, PAFA, the acronym didn’t sound so glamourous.
She was shaken out of her revelry by a frantic navigator. “Captain, our cloaking system malfunctioned for just a moment,” he began. “We’re back online now. But we were probably visible for a brief time.” He finished looking ashamed.
The captain bore down on him recognizing the seriousness of their situation. She asked him straightforwardly, “How long is a brief time?”
The navigator answered like a timid Mula-cat, frightened and slinking away, “Maybe two seconds. From this distance, we probably just looked like a bright star flash and then blinked out.” He tried to sound casual.
She knew this was not something to take lightly. “This third planet from the sun is an advanced race. Their instruments no doubt detected us. At this distance, any stargazer who knew what he was looking at could probably see us!” She was frustrated, this was a rookie mistake.
They had planned to land and explore this rock anyway.
But now it was going to be damage control. PAFA routinely visited plants and determined when and if contact was feasible. A civilization needed to be at a certain level in order avoid interfering with their natural development.
Now she and her team would have to cover their tracks due to this faulty cloaking device.
The man read the news, more than that, he wrote the news.
His job as senior journalist for the online newspaper always kept him busy. There was always something interesting and his tenure allowed him to pick his stories. But now, everyone was writing about the same thing.
He loved the way people ate up the news like candy. To him, news was just that- consumable goods to keep his paycheck coming in. He never took anything personally because it was always changing.
The man had no close relatives and his friends were mainly information contacts and guys he would join to watch sports. His job was his life and he liked it that way. Around the office, they called him the Lone Wolf
“Don’t get too close to the story or you lose your objectivity.” That was what he taught his investigative team. And this story certainly called for objectivity.
There were conspiracy theories, that the government was hiding something. But this was too big to categorize as a fluke. Everyone had seen “the star” appear and disappear, so there was no denying it.
The man was extremely busy with “the Disappearing Star” story. If anyone was going to break the latest news, he wanted it to be him. He scoured all his usual sources but got nothing, he was getting frustrated.
He was getting frustrated until he met her…
From high orbit, she had monitored all the newsfeeds.
This was worse than she had imagined. Everyone was talking about the sky phenomenon. This primitive civilization was more advanced than the record showed.
Once they returned from cleaning up this mess, she would have to update the registry. Cleaning up the mess, what an interesting phrase. It usually involved simple memory wipes.
Other times it called for coordinating with a natural event. It's surprising how easily a dramatic solar flare or a fantastic aurora borealis display can destroy electronic records. Sometimes, she would have to get creative.
This was one of those times.
Since her cloaking device was working again, they were able to land undetected. The technology was alarmingly complex, but its purpose was clear. It shielded them not only from radar but rendered them invisible.
Her ship was hidden in a nearby lake. Her home planet was covered with a large ocean so having it submerged was a natural choice. She modified her pressure suit so that resembled a human female.
Passing as an earthling was not part of the original mission. But as captain, she had the authority to take the necessary steps to ensure success. Her crew envied her because interacting with native species was always a treat.
It had been 15 days since he'd met the beautiful stranger.
The man had to admit that he was intrigued by the fact that the first girl he was ever truly “head over heels” in love with was not a girl at all! When she told him that she was an alien and had to leave, he thought she was talking about immigration troubles. When she told him the real truth, he hadn't believed her.
They had been working together for a few days when he had to admit he was smitten with her. He'd worked with beautiful women before, but there was something different about her. She could look at him and see right through him.
He felt no need put to keep up his natural defenses. The old idea of not getting too close to the story didn't seem to apply. Her enthusiasm was contagious.
Now he knew why. She joined his team as a foreign correspondent investigating the sky phenomenon. He had no idea how foreign she really was!
Her insight was compelling. She seemed to understand that this was incredible news. Some of the initial excitement about the "Disappearing Star" was starting to wear off.
His boss had actually resigned him to another story. Then the pictures from the Hubble Telescope hit the news. This was no "star," it was a spaceship! All in high-resolution video that was there one minute then disappeared.
The next day, this beautiful stranger showed up.
She had to tell him.
The mission had been simple: find a human who was part of the primitive communication networks. Explain who she was, and how she wanted to broadcast this to the world, but instead use her advanced technology to erase any evidence of their presence. Then simply wipe his memory clean.
In PAFA, they call this a "Bait and Wipe." The idea is to entice the local with this special knowledge, like dangling nourishment in front of a Beta-fish, and then to erase it. No muss, no fuss, get in and out with no troubles.
Now there was trouble.
How could this happen to her? This sort of thing does happen, in fact, there’s an entire section on it in the academy. This sort of thing happens to first-year cadets, not decorated officers on the fast track to the admiralty!
Working so closely with this earthman had affected her more than she expected.
Before the mission, she had laughed when her crew teased her about her freedom and lack of accountability except to the ship. Who’s laughing now?
On her planet, individuals were selected at birth for reproduction or designated as explorers. It was considered a kindness not to bond those who would spend their lives among the stars away from their mates. Captains were usually unmated so that command decisions could be made without emotion.
"So, you're not frightened of me?" The woman asked him after he was silent for too long.
"How can I be?" He responded looking deep into her eyes. "You chose me to tell the world of the existence of life beyond our solar system! I've always known we weren't alone in the universe. I just never expected them to be like you!"
He hadn't intended to share his feelings for her at this time. But after her revelation, his didn't seem too extraordinary. And it didn't help when she told him she already knew.
"That mind-reading thing you see in your movies," she began, "it's all true." She finished with a smile. That smile is what had captured his heart the very first day they met.
She'd only told him half her secret. Not only did she know that he loved her. She also knew that she loved him.
What had happened to her? Perhaps it was the long space voyages, the endless hyperspace jumps, the lonely cryo-sleeps, or all the paperwork! Or maybe it was the returning home to no one there waiting for her that finally made the difference…
And it was this love for him that made erasing his memory impossible. She didn't want him to forget her. His warm and tender feelings for her felt good and it was a feeling she wanted to nurture and help grow...grow into what?
She made up her mind that she would tell him the whole truth. They would perform the "Bait and Wipe" together, on everyone but him. How they did it and what happens next is a tale for another time...