Flight Lieutenant Harry Easton stared at the submarine-shaped object in front of his F16.
"Oh my God, it's real!" he said softly. He had been up investigating UFO sightings at least a dozen times over the last two years. But until now they had always turned out to be weather balloons, advertising blimps, ball lightning, or other explicable phenomena. But this time there could be no doubt. "A real flying saucer!" Although the silvery object was more cigar-shaped than saucer-like.
As his fighter caught up with the UFO, Harry saw that it was the size of an ocean liner with thousands of portholes in neat rows down the side. "It's real, dammit!" he said, reaching for his microphone.
"Able-Baker..." he started to say. But his words turned to a cry of, "Holy Jesus!" half prayer, half curse as a blinding white light streamed from the rear of the UFO. For a second he thought the UFO had blown up. "It's accelerating!" he cried, as he covered his eyes with his hands. Then -- too late -- he realised the white light was some form of beam directed at him.
"Able-Baker, Able-Baker," he called into his microphone. But he received back only a static hiss. Then as the dials on his flight consul began to spin crazily, he realised it was a lot more serious than just the radio playing up.
"I'm going down!" he said as his plane began to disintegrate around him. "The damn thing has shot me down." He activated his ejector seat then promptly blacked out.
* * *
When he came to Harry Easton was lying amid the tangled cords of his parachute in a field of tall corn staring up at a clear azure sky. And at a tall, muscular looking white-bearded farmer wearing blue coveralls and holding a pitchfork in his left hand. "Either they've got corn fields in hell," thought Harry staring warily at the pitchfork, "or I've landed safely on someone's farm."
As a strong wind rustled through the corn field Harry could suddenly also smell wheat, rice, and soya beans.
"Soya beans?" said Harry in surprise as the farmer reached down with his right hand to pull him to his feet.
"That's right," agreed the old man as Harry tentatively stood up.
Harry felt as though he'd broken every bone in his body as he tried to walk, but he knew that couldn't be true, or else he wouldn't be able to stand. "I didn't think we grew soya beans in America?" said Harry pressing the release valve for his parachute.
"Yes indeed we do," said the farmer who identified himself as Josh. "Soya beans are the most valuable crop produced in the state of Missouri these days."
"If you say so," agreed Harry as he started to gather up his parachute. He suddenly stopped as he realised what Josh had said, "The state of Missouri?"
"That's right, young fella."
"But we can't be in Missouri!" protested Harry. He finished gathering up his parachute.
"I orta know," insisted Josh. "I lived here all me life. Nigh on eighty years."
"Missouri?" thought Harry. "But I was only twenty miles or so from Beale Airforce Base in California when I encountered the UFO!" But he knew better than to say that aloud to Josh, knowing that the airforce would want to debrief him first. And probably put the lid on what he saw before it leaks out to the news media, he realised.
With Josh's help Harry staggered over to the pine-wood porch of the small farmhouse. Seeing Josh lean his pitchfork against the wall of the cabin, Harry dropped his parachute on the porch and staggered inside where the bitter aroma of soya beans was even stronger than outside.
"Since the kids left I bin using one of the spare rooms as a storage silo," explained Josh as he helped Harry to sit at a hardwood chair at the wooden table.
Looking round at the wooden furnishings, which all looked handmade, Harry asked dubiously, "I don't suppose you'd have a phone I could use to ring Beale Airforce Base?"
"Sure do, young fella," said Josh. Harry expected the old man to head toward the next room, instead he walked over to the kitchen sink, where he pulled out one of the drawers and removed an expensive-looking digital mobile phone.
Seeing Harry's astonished look, Josh laughed and said, "With a growed son and three daughters all livin' in diff'rent states, I gotta have some means of keepin' in touch with 'em."
"Yeah, of course," agreed Harry, accepting the phone from the old man. After ringing through to report his situation to Beale, he said, "Sorry to put you out further, but is there somewhere I can lie down till they come to pick me up?"
"There's a cot in the back room," said Josh. "But it's in where I store the soya beans."
"That's all right, I won't mind if they don't," joked Harry and Josh helped him down the corridor to the room at the back of the cabin.
As Josh had promised, sacks of soya beans were stacked against three walls of the room. There was also a metal cot, with what looked like an inch thick mattress on it, but no sheet or blankets. Harry lay down and to his surprise fell asleep almost immediately.
Less than two hours later he was shaken awake by a hand on his shoulder.
"Josh? What?" asked Harry, disorientated. Waking to the overpowering smell of soya beans for a second he thought he was out in the fields again. Then he remembered he was in the elderly farmer's storage silo-cum-spare bedroom.
"Thar's a coupla fellas here to see yer," said Josh.
"A couple of fellows? Who?" asked Harry, sitting up groggily on the side of the squeaky cot.
"Special Agent Dennis Fraser," a tall black man identified himself. He flashed his CIA identification at Harry who was still rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
"Special Agent Jackson Laguna," said a tall white man. Both men looked as though they spent a lot of time body-building; both seemed to bulge out of the smart, navy-blue suits they wore.
"Would you mind coming with us please, Lieutenant Easton?" said Dennis Fraser, in a tone that left no doubt that it was not really a question.
"Sure, okay," said Harry rising a little unsteadily from the cot. Turning toward Josh, he said, "Well, thanks...." But he was bundled outside before he could finish thanking the old man for his help. As they stepped out onto the porch of the log cabin he pointed to his parachute, and said, "My chute."
"They'll send someone to pick it up," said Jackson Laguna.
"But if we're going back to Beale anyway...?" said Harry. He stopped in amazement at the sight of the car parked before the log house.
"We're not going straight back to Beale," said Dennis Fraser. However, Harry did not hear him, so intent was he on staring at the car: the longest Cadillac he had ever seen in his life. A white Eldorado stretch limousine.
"Oh my God, they've brought the Battlestar Galactica with them!" thought Harry.
* * *
The next few days were a blur to Harry, as they sped across country, stopping for eight hours each night at CIA safe houses. Until three days later, the stretch limo was racing down the George Washington Parkway, past the heavily wooded pine forest alongside the Potomac River, at Langley, Virginia. Throughout the three days' drive Agents Fraser and Laguna were friendly but taciturn, speaking little and refusing to talk at all about Harry Easton's "close encounter". "Please wait till you speak to the general," Agent Fraser said for the umpteenth time as they turned off the George Washington Parkway, and started down a side road toward a large wire-mesh gate. "General Pendercoste will want to speak to you in private about your experience."
They stopped at the first set of gates and were approached by an armed security guard.
"Hello, George," said Jackson Laguna flashing his CIA ID.
"Jackson," said the security guard checking Dennis Fraser's IDs also. He returned to his security box, and opened the gates electronically, then the long white stretch limo cruised through.
After passing through a second set of gates, the Cadillac drove across to a mammoth eight-story, white concrete building, which looked for all the world like an ancient walled-in city -- only on a grander scale.
Harry Easton let out a low whistle of appreciation. Of course, he had heard reports of the massive CIA complex at Langley Virginia, but had never quite believed the stories.
The two agents chuckled and Dennis Fraser said, "That's nothing, wait till you get inside. Most of the complex is underground. Some of it so deep it'd survive a direct hit from a nuclear missile."
Harry whistled again.
Inside the "walled city" Harry was taken down a long white corridor, to a small elevator that plummeted so fast that it made his ears ring. "My God, I wonder how deep underground we are?" he thought, when they finally stepped out into the wide corridor again. Although he had never been claustrophobic before, he felt his head swimming and for a moment he almost panicked, thinking the walls were closing in on him. "My God a mountain! It's like being buried alive beneath a great mountain of concrete. They weren't exaggerating about how deep underground it is!"
Harry was escorted to a small bedroom with en suite -- both in the same sterile white as the corridors -- where he showered and freshened up, then returned to the small bedroom. He walked over to the steel-grey door and checked around it for a handle or button. Seeing a narrow slit the size of a credit card slot in an automatic teller, he recalled that Dennis Fraser had used a plastic key-card to open it when he had entered.
Turning, he looked about the sparsely furnished room. In one corner was a military-grey, double-door wardrobe. In another was a small white dressing cabinet. Beside which was a single wood-framed bed. There were also two high-backed, hardwood chairs near the dressing cabinet.
Harry headed toward the bed, but then he noticed the silver tray with a coffee pot and covered dish for his dinner.
"At least they're not planning to starve me," he said, sitting down to the meal of T-bone steak, French fries and corn on the cob -- the latter reminding him of old Josh's farm.
Harry had almost finished when he heard the electronic hiss of the door to his left. Looking round he saw Dennis Fraser and Jackson Laguna standing in the doorway.
"General Pendercoste would like to see you now," said Jackson Laguna.
"Okay," said Harry. Getting up, he followed after them.
They led Harry back to the elevator, this time to only travel up half-a-dozen stories. Then he was taken down a labyrinth-like series of identical white-walled corridors, before reaching his final destination: an office whose walls were covered in large scale maps of the world, as well as two great crossed Stars-and-Stripes behind a vast blackwood, glass-topped desk. At which was seated a huge bear of a man: more than six feet tall, bulging with muscles, General Wallace T. Pendercoste was a fiercely blond man in his mid sixties, with more than a passing resemblance to George C. Scott. As Harry stepped forward he almost gagged on the smell of the general's body odor -- which was overpowering despite the liberal splashings of cologne that he obviously used.
Smelling the sweeter smell of roses, Harry looked round to the right, and saw an attractive brunette who looked in her early thirties. She sat at one corner of the vast desk, holding a large notepad and a blue biro.
Not knowing whether to salute or shake hands, Harry hesitated for a moment, then chose to do the former. General Pendercoste casually returned the salute and introduced himself. Then as Harry sat down as invited, as an obvious afterthought the general indicated the brunette, saying, "This is Colonel Verna Madison."
She flashed Harry a broad smile by way of welcome, and for the first time in three days Harry began to relax a little.
"Okay, let's get down to it," said General Pendercoste. He leaned forward until he was perched over his desk slightly like an eagle poised to swoop down at some prey hundreds of feet below. And Harry was almost gagging again on the general's B.O.
Harry sat back in his chair, trying to breathe as shallowly as possible and waiting for the general to continue. Finally he realised Pendercoste was waiting for Harry to tell his story.
"Er, well," Harry stammered, going on to relate the incident. Pendercoste and Madison listened intently, Verna flashing Harry a smile of encouragement from time to time. While he spoke Verna copied down his report in shorthand to Harry's surprise.
For thirty seconds or so after Harry finished, General Pendercoste sat in silence, clasping his hands together as though in prayer. Finally he sat back in his chair, to Harry's relief, and asked, "You said you were over California, not far from Beale when you encountered the UFO?"
"Yet when you parachuted to earth, you were in Missouri?"
"That's a hell of a long way to fall."
The lieutenant started to smile, but saw Verna Madison shake her head hurriedly and tap her lips with one finger. And Harry realised the general was not trying to be humorous.
When he failed to comment, Pendercoste leaned forward, making Harry gag again, and asked, "How do you account for such a discrepancy, Lieutenant Easton?"
"Well, er, as I said general, the UFO hit me with some kind of blinding white light...and I thought it was just some kind of weapon." He hesitated for a moment, not wanting to wander into the realms of science fiction if he could help it, "But, er," he shrugged, "maybe it was more than just a weapon."
"More than just a weapon?" repeated Pendercoste, sitting back in his seat, to Harry's relief.
"Yes, er, maybe it was some kind of er...some kind of teleportation ray?"
"Some kind of teleportation ray?" asked Pendercoste, raising an eyebrow menacingly. "What, 'Beam me up, Scotty'?" He rocked back in his plush, black-leather chair as though about to burst out into laughter. Instead he sat forward again and said, "Oh come on Easton, this is the 1990s for God's sake! No one believes in that kind of crap anymore. It's just a 1960s psychedelic space-dream."
"Then how do you explain it?" demanded Harry. He regretted the question as soon as he asked it.
"I don't have to explain it! You're the one telling this goddamn fairy tale, not me!" shouted the general, no longer bothering to hide his animosity.
"General, please," said Verna Madison. She reached out to take his left arm.
Shaking off her grip he said, "Don't 'general, please' me, Colonel." Harry half expected him to add, "Why don't you go back to the typing pool, where you belong?"
Verna Madison flushed deeply, as though she also expected the general to add the sexist addendum. Harry couldn't help thinking the red flush suited her and flashed her a smile of encouragement.
"Just what were you sniffing in that plane anyway?" demanded Pendercoste. "Super-glue or liquid paper? I hear they both can really send you off down the yellow brick road if you're not careful."
"Look I don't have to put up with this kind of abuse!" shouted Harry leaping to his feet. He only hoped he sounded more sure of himself than he felt.
"Yes, you do! Yes, you do!" shouted the general. He stood and leaned across the desk like a huge bear about to attack. "In case it has slipped your mind, that was $18,000,000 worth of US Airforce F16 fighter you left scattered across some yokel's farm in Missouri. And unless you can account for it you're in deep shit!"
For a few seconds Harry stood his ground, eyeballing the general. But in the end his resolve collapsed and he slumped, defeated backed into his hardwood chair.
General Pendercoste sneered a wide shit-eater grin toward Verna Madison, then turned back to Harry. "Isn't it much more likely you saw a weather balloon or...or the planet Venus?"
"It shot me down!" insisted Harry. "How often does a weather balloon or Venus shoot down an F16 jet-fighter?"
The general considered for a moment, then dropping back into his armchair said, more calmly, "You'd be amazed how often highly skilled pilots have chased Venus, thinking it was a UFO, then crashed when their fuel finally gave out."
"No!" protested Harry, but less confidently than before. "I saw...I saw a silver submarine."
"We all live in a silver submarine," sang the general in a strident voice.
Verna glared at the general then said to Harry, "The mind can play all kinds of strange tricks, lieutenant. Perhaps there was a defect in your oxygen apparatus?"
"Exactly," agreed General Pendercoste. "The same thing happens to deep-sea divers when something goes haywire with their oxygen supply. They imagine all kinds of wacky things: undersea palaces, giant sea serpents, beautiful green mermaids...You name it."
"No, no, I...I saw it," persisted Harry. But he had started to have doubts.
"Look, son," said Pendercoste, in a suddenly sympathetic tone, "why don't you just admit you chased Venus from Beale to Missouri then blacked out?"
"It could happen to any pilot," added Verna.
Harry turned to look at the tall, attractive brunette. "No...no it happened just as I explained," he insisted. He looked down, refusing to meet the eyes of the two officers, lest they see the onset of doubt in his own eyes.
"All right then," said the general, "let's go through it all again."
"Okay," said Harry, sighing from frustration. Stubbornly refusing to allow them to break down his story, he repeated it almost word for word. This time he saw Wallace Pendercoste turn on a cassette recorder in the top drawer of the glass-topped desk, while Verna flicked through her copious notes, occasionally making alterations or additions.
"But how could a cigar-shaped vessel fly?" demanded Pendercoste at one point. "Surely it would be aerodynamically unsound in the heavy atmosphere of Earth?"
"I don't know," admitted Harry.
"Could it have had some form of wings, that you didn't see?" asked Verna.
"Why not, were they hidden in the fifth dimension?" asked General Wallace T. Pendercoste, causing the brunette to flush deeply again. The general sat forward again, and had Harry gagging on his overwhelming B.O. again.
"No, I meant they may have been hidden from sight by the outline of the superstructure."
"All right," said Pendercoste, "let's go through it all again."
So Harry told his story for a third time. Then a fourth, then a fifth...until he lost count.
In the claustrophobic underground "castle" Harry had lost all track of time, since the only clock in the room was on the wall behind him, and he didn't dare turn round to look at it. So he was relieved when Pendercoste finally looked at his watch and said, "That will be all for today, lieutenant."
"Thank you, sir," said Harry. He slowly stood up, stretching wide to relieve a crick in his back from hours on the hardwood seat. As Special Agents Dennis Fraser and Jackson Laguna entered the office, Harry asked, "Will I be leaving for Beale tonight, sir? Or in the morning?"
General Pendercoste looked up, obviously surprised at the question. He hesitated so long that Harry had started to think he was not going to answer at all. Finally the general said, "I'm afraid you won't be returning to Beale for quite a while yet, lieutenant. We still have to straighten a few things out in your story."
"Don't worry," said Verna, "your stay here has been approved by Beale, so there will be no problems on that score."
"Yes, ma'am," he said, a little crestfallen. Harry managed to snap off a half salute before being led outside into the monotonous white-walled corridor.
They walked down the labyrinth of white corridors in silence, till nearly back at Harry's room, before he decided to try to break through the two agents' aloofness. "General Pendercoste seems reluctant to believe my story."
For half a minute neither agent responded. Then Jackson Laguna stopped and said, "General Pendercoste is of the old school of down-to-earth soldiers. His biggest regret in life is that he was born too late to serve under General Patton. But he served in Vietnam, then Desert Storm, and in both campaigns he modelled himself on Old Blood-And-Guts. There's no way you'll ever convince General Pendercoste that you saw a real UFO, if he keeps you here till doomsday."
Laguna hesitated for a moment before adding, "And frankly he probably will if you aren't smart enough to change your story. Since Blue Book, no one in the Agency, or in the US military has been prepared to acknowledge the possibility that UFOs might be really from other planets."
Harry waited for a second, expecting Laguna to continue. Then he realised the agent had said all he intended to. Reluctantly Harry turned back, and found the reason they had stopped was that they were outside his room. "Cell!" he thought. And he immediately wondered what had put that thought into his head.
Harry stepped aside as Dennis Fraser took what looked like an oversized credit card from a pocket of his coat. He put the key-card into a slot in the wall and the steel door opened with a whoosh. Then it whooshed shut behind Harry again.
"It really is like being in a cell," he decided as he stepped across to the bed. "Or an underground dungeon perhaps?" But as he sat on the springy bed he realised, "No dungeon ever had this kind of comfort." However, he couldn't stop the nagging idea that he was a prisoner.
Looking at the bland white dressing table, in the bland white room, Harry thought, "Why do I need this, when I don't have any change of clothes with me? Unless they've kindly provided me with something?" He pulled the top drawer out and stared in amazement at a drawer full of underwear. His own underwear. Which should have been in his apartment in California.
He hurriedly opened another drawer and found it was full of his sweaters. The third was full of his pyjamas -- both light summer and woollen winter variety. "My God he wasn't kidding about Pendercoste keeping me here till I admit I was hallucinating!"
Harry hurried across to the white double-door wardrobe. Both sides of the wardrobe were full of clothes: the left a lieutenant's uniform, the right civilian shirts, coats, and trousers. Again his own clothes, as he quickly confirmed by checking the name tag on the uniforms.
"What the hell is going on here?" he said aloud. Then quickly he started to look around the room, for any hidden listening devices.
"Jesus, I'm getting paranoid!" Harry said as he kneeled down to look under the bed. "But what the hell is going on here? Why go to all the trouble of transporting my entire wardrobe from California to Virginia?"
"And what the hell did Jackson Laguna mean by that crack about Blue Book?" he suddenly wondered. "Project Blue Book was an official US government investigation into UFOs from about..." He had to ponder for a moment. "From about 1952 until it was suddenly shutdown in 1970." He stopped for a moment to consider again. "No, I'm wrong. It was 1969. December 1969, the time of the Flower Children!"
"We all live in the silver submarine!" he said aloud, recalling Pendercoste's sarcasm earlier. "Of course Blue Book and the Flower Power movement were from the same era, but so what? Maybe Pendercoste's sarcasm and Laguna's remark are unrelated. Just co-incidence. But how far does co-incidence stretch?
"And if it's not co-incidence, what does it mean?" he wondered. He sat down on the bed to ponder, and without realising it, started to lightly bounce up and down on the mattress. "Blue Book was suddenly shutdown in December 1969 with no proper explanation. Officially it was shutdown because it had failed to locate any firm evidence that UFOs are really spacecraft. Yet at least one Blue Book scientist publicly said otherwise. Professor Allen Hynek claimed Blue Book did have conclusive proof there was life on other planets, despite the project's tendency not to investigate too closely the cases most likely to produce positive results."
"Yes," he said aloud. He remembered back to his teen years when Hynek had risked the wrath of his former Blue Book colleagues by "coming clean" as UFO-believers liked to call it. Or "flipping his lid", as the sceptics preferred to say.
Harry recalled that throughout his teen years all kinds of conspiracy theories had abounded after Hynek's outspoken comments. "Some people insisted Blue Book was speedily wrapped up because the U.S. government already knew what UFOs are. The most common theory was that they were super-secret Soviet spy planes, capable of flying ten times the speed of any known jets. But some people suggested they were US stealth jets!" Harry recalled. Because they were often sighted off the coast of Australia or New Zealand. Places too far from the former Soviet Union for them to be able to reach even at such phenomenal speeds, test the planes, then get home again in a single night. But close enough to the USA for American stealth fighters to have two or three hours' testing each night and still get home again in one night."
At one point in October 1984, President Reagan had even publicly stated the (then) super-secret US Stealth Reconnaissance bomber the SR-71 (and its predecessors) were responsible for most UFO sightings world-wide since the late 1950s. "But UFO sightings date back to at least 1947!" thought Harry. "And they were prolific in the early 1950s before the first of the Flying Wings came along -- the first of Reagan's US-UFOs."
Of course sceptics have often pointed out that Flying Wings and UFOs have one thing in common: the tendency to crash frequently. UFO-believers have pointed out that craft built for space flight would be less aerodynamically sound in a heavy atmosphere. ("Such as a flying submarine!" Harry thought.) But sceptics have answered that the same applies for the Flying Wing. Officially the Flying Wing had ceased production in the early 1960s. But in reality they kept experimenting, modifying, improving, till it transmogrified into the SR-71!
Whatever the truth about UFOs though, the US government reportedly has used terror tactics to get eye witnesses to change their report or withdraw it completely. "Just like General Pendercoste has been trying to badger me into doing!" Harry realised. A common aspect of UFO sightings is the Men-In-Black (MIBs). Mysterious strangers who dress like the Blues Brothers and arrive at UFO crash sites in long black Cadillacs. "Just like the Battlestar Galactica that Fraser and Laguna arrived at Josh's farm in to collect me! Except it was a long, white Cadillac. Still the color doesn't matter, the principle's the same." Only Fraser and Laguna weren't openly hostile toward Harry, like MIBs are supposed to be. Just a little reluctant to talk.
"And I haven't really been mistreated in any way since being brought here." But he shuddered as he recalled Jackson Laguna's comment, "There's no way you'll ever convince General Pendercoste that you saw a real UFO, if he keeps you here till doomsday. And frankly he probably will if you aren't smart enough to change your story."
"Surely he was only kidding?" said Harry. But he couldn't help thinking, "MIBs are reported to not only intimidate UFO-witnesses, but also to kidnap and even murder them...So if UFOs really are some kind of super-secret U.S. spy plane whose identity the American government is determined to keep secret at all costs...Even to the point of kidnapping or murdering US citizens...?" He left the idea hanging, not daring even to think it.
* * *
When supper arrived that evening, Harry was sitting up on the bed, reading a four-day-old newspaper he had found among his clothes in the dressing cabinet. As he heard the whoosh of the electronic door, he looked up and saw Dennis Fraser carrying his supper tray.
"Hi," said Harry. He received a nod of greeting from the agent. When he looked round expecting to see Jackson Laguna, instead he saw the smiling figure of Verna Madison.
"Hi, yourself," said Verna. "How are you getting on?"
"Okay, I guess," Harry said. "What are my chances of springing bail from this place tomorrow?"
The smile vanished from Verna's mouth and she turned to look at Dennis Fraser for a second. When she looked back she was smiling again, but it now looked forced. "Don't tell me you're tired of our company already?" she joked. "Don't worry, you shouldn't have to be here more than a few days...A week at the outside."
"But what about my work at Beale?" Harry asked.
"Don't worry, it's all been approved by the US Airforce. You're on temporary special leave with full pay."
"At least could I have something more recent to read?" Harry asked. He pointed to the old newspaper.
Fraser and Madison exchanged a look, as though this was a tricky question. Finally Dennis said, "We can get you the New York Times and the Washington Post each day, if that's okay?"
"Yes, that's fine," Harry said. Although he had never read either paper in his life, he decided they would be better than nothing.
Harry tried to make small talk with first Madison, then Fraser, hoping they would keep him company while he ate. But both cried off, claiming to have work they still had to do that night.
"But it's almost 9 o'clock?" said Harry after checking his watch. "Surely you don't have to stay on duty beyond that time?"
Verna smiled nervously and said, "No rest for the wicked."
Harry started to laugh. But he realised neither Dennis nor Verna had laughed at the "joke".
After they had left Harry discovered that he was ravenous. Sitting on one of the high-backed wooden chairs, using the dressing cabinet as a table, he quickly devoured his supper of lamb chops, mashed potatoes, peas, gravy, and a large pot of coffee. Normally he liked to read for an hour or two after supper. But that night he could hardly keep his eyes open.
"Jesus!" he said as he almost fell asleep on the bed reading the old newspaper. "I must have been de-energised by the grilling I received from the general earlier."
He lurched toward the dressing cabinet to get a pair of pyjamas. But as his head began to swim, he realised he would not be able to change. Instead he stripped down to his underwear and collapsed into the bed, barely having the strength to pull the bedclothes up over himself.
* * *
Flight Lieutenant Harry Easton stared out at the giant submarine shaped object in front of his F16 fighter. "Oh my God it's real!" he said into the microphone.
"Say again Able-Baker," came the crackly voice over the radio.
"It's real dammit, it's real. A real flying saucer!" cried Harry in excitement. "Jesus for two years you've been sending me up chasing weather balloons and ball-lightning, but finally it's the real thing! A real flying saucer!"
"Calm down, lieutenant," advised the voice of General Wallace T. Pendercoste over the radio. "You must be having a hallucination."
"It's an illusion caused by oxygen starvation at high altitude," suggested Colonel Verna Madison over the radio. "Check your oxygen valve."
"No sir, ma'am, it's no hallucination," Harry insisted. Still he checked his oxygen valve to be on the safe side. "Oxygen valve checks out."
As he began to overtake the spacecraft Harry could see it was immense. "It's as big as the Battlestar Galactica," Harry said into the mike. "But shaped like a silver submarine.
"Hello, are you there?" he called as the radio began to crackle. For a few seconds it went completely dead. Then a voice doing a bad imitation of Wolfman Jack came over the radio to announce:
"This is radio KRAP operating out of Jefferson City Missouri, bringing you a golden mouldy, a blast from the past. The Silver Beatles from 1969 singing their smash hit single 'Silver Submarine'."
For a second there was the sound of a stylus scratching round an old fashioned vinyl LP record, then a voice, sounding remarkably like John Lennon began singing, "We all live in a silver submarine. A silver submarine. A silver submarine...."
"What the...?" Harry cried. He began fiddling with the controls of the radio and the voice faded out.
Harry continued fiddling with the controls for a moment. But as he approached within a few hundred yards of the "submarine" he was transfixed by the sight of thousands of small, round portholes running in at least a score of rows along the side of the craft. "My God, it really is as big as the Battlestar Galactica," Harry said.
He strained to try to peer in through one of the portholes. At first the glass shone silvery like mirror-glass, making it impossible to see in. But halfway along the vessel three of the portholes had something visible through them. Harry had approached to within fifty yards of the "submarine" before he could make out what he was seeing.
"Aliens!" he said in shock.
Three dwarf-sized aliens -- two bone-white, the third a pale ash color -- stood by the windows staring out at him. They were bald and had oversized heart-shaped heads, which seemed to sit directly on their necks. Their eyes were jet-black and seemed the size of tennis balls.
"My God, aliens!" Harry cried. He began fiddling with his mike again. But before he could get it operational, the grey alien held up a long white baton and pointed it at Harry.
A blinding yellow-white beam poured from the baton and thumped into the F16 jet like an oversized fist.
"Able-Baker! Able-Baker!" the radio began to announce. But too late. Harry's plane had begun to disintegrate around him.
"I'm breaking up! I'm breaking up!" Harry shouted into his mike. "It's shot me down. The damn UFO has shot me down!"
"Are you sure it's not just a weather balloon or ball-lightning?" asked the voice of General Wallace T. Pendercoste.
"Weather balloons and ball-lightning don't shoot down F16 fighter planes as a general rule," the voice of Verna Madison said over the radio.
Harry attempted to activate the ejector seat on his plane, but even that had collapsed. "Oh Jesus!" he shrieked as he fell through the bottom of the F16, which had become as brittle as age-yellowed paper.
"Jeeee...suuuuus!" shrieked Harry as he free fell through the air. As he fell he was suddenly swamped by a sugary smell as though the air itself had become sweet.
* * *
Harry awoke with a start in his "cell" in the underground fortress in Langley Virginia.
For a moment he thought he was still dreaming. He could still smell the sweet, sugary aroma. And although he was back in the bland white room, the heart-faced aliens had not vanished. There now seemed to be a dozen of them. Most of the aliens were pulling out drawers in the dressing cabinet, examining his clothing. Others pored through his uniforms and trousers in the double-door wardrobe.
Three others stood round his bed, staring down at him with their large, limpid black eyes.
For a second Harry was puzzled as he heard what sounded like the twittering of small birds. Then he realised the twittering was coming from the dwarf-sized aliens. "So that's what aliens sound like," he thought, "twittering canaries?"
Then he detected other sounds like tongue-clicking as part of their speech and decided they sounded more like African bushmen.
"I'm still asleep and dreaming!" thought Harry. But he could still smell the sugary sweet odor, which he realised was the breath of the grey alien leaning over him. "Can you dream smells?" he wondered.
The aliens continued to poke and probe Harry like a doctor trying to find where it hurts, for nearly a minute. Then the grey alien noticed Harry's eyes were open. The ash-grey alien pointed its left hand toward Harry and began screeching like an excited monkey.
Instantly the hive of activity by the wardrobe and dressing cabinet ceased. The twittering-clicking aliens all fell silent and turned to stare toward Harry.
"Hello," said Harry, not knowing what else to say.
All twelve of the aliens began shrilling monkey-like, running round madly like living Dodgem cars. Then the grey alien -- who seemed to be their leader -- shrilled louder, and the others fell silent and turned to stare at him. Their tennis-ball-sized eyes seemed to shine fluorescently.
The leader pointed toward the electronic door and the aliens all fled toward it.
"No, wait," cried Harry. He tried to leap out of bed, but his head span and he fell to the floor.
As he looked up the door opened with a whoosh and the aliens raced out into the corridor.
"No, please," called Harry. He struggled for a moment to untangle his feet from the bedclothes -- which had fallen off the bed with him. Then he crawled after the aliens, afraid to attempt to stand again.
Harry had almost reached the corridor, when the last of the aliens fled through. And the electronic door whooshed shut again.
"No, come back, dammit!" hollered Harry. He banged his fists on the cold metal door for a moment, then looked round for a handle. Seeing the small slot beside the door, he recalled that Dennis Fraser and Jackson Laguna had used a credit-card like plastic key-card to open the door.
"Then how the hell did the aliens open the door to get in then escape again?" he wondered. "Unless they had their own plastic keys!"
Although he thought he was too excited to get back to sleep, the instant his head hit the pillow Harry was asleep again.
* * *
"Rise and shine," said Verna Madison, shaking Harry awake by the shoulder at 8:30.
"What...what?" said Harry smelling the sweet smell of red roses as he sat up with a start.
For a moment he did not know where he was and expected to see heart-faced aliens swarming round his bed. Seeing the dark-haired colonel standing near his bed Harry blushed and pulled his bedclothes up a bit.
Verna laughed, then said, "Don't worry, I've seen men in their underwear before."
"And out of it," added Dennis Fraser. He laughed at his own joke, till the colonel turned to glare at him. Fraser placed Harry's breakfast tray on the dressing table beside the bed, then placed the two newspapers on the foot of the bed.
"We'll wait outside while you dress," said Verna.
As she started to turn away Harry asked, "What happened to officer Laguna? Isn't he assigned to me anymore?"
Dennis Fraser and the brunette exchanged a look, then after a moment Verna said, "No...he was transferred to Illinois."
"Poor bastard," added Fraser with a laugh.
The went out into the corridor so Harry could change. Then Harry wolfed down his breakfast, hardly noticing what he ate, so keen was he to tell General Pendercoste what he had seen the night before.
END CHAPTER ONE: