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Close Encounter

When red lights start flashing and alarms start sounding, it's never a good sign – regardless of the make of the vehicle. It's a universal thing, a bold and frightening in-your-face reminder that you're going down and there's nothing you can do about it. It doesn't matter how many times you try the appropriate switches and buttons or curse the wretched machine carrying you; gravity's taken a liking to you, and all you can do is brace for impact and pray to come out alive.

These are the thoughts racing through his mind as he tries in vain to get the anti-gravity generator to start up again. A part of him knows it won't, and even if it did it would be too late. He's too close to the ground now and it's only getting closer as the seconds fly by. A part of him rationalizes that if he were actually something of a decent pilot, he may have been able to guide his ship into a somewhat gentler crash than the one it's headed for. But, no, he isn't that lucky.

The night seems like any other to her, but her dog knows better. He whines and scratches at the door, eager to go out – but not for the reasons she thinks. She opens the door for him, urges him out and to hurry back, but he doesn't listen. He trots quickly away from the farmhouse, whines and sniffs at the air, because he can sense what she can't. He knows what she doesn't.

He sits, and stares up at the sky, toward an orange glow that is steadily becoming brighter. He whimpers, and even if he had the mind to run, he doesn't have time to before that glow comes crashing down on top of him.

She watches from the porch, the way her dog had wanders out and then just sits and stares up at the sky. He has never behaved like this before, so she takes it upon herself to start after him. The grip on the teddy bear that dangles from one hand tightens as she approaches, calling quietly, because suddenly her voice is hard to find, "Paul...?"

And then there's a glow and a whimper, then a crash and a tremor, and she isn't quite sure what to think. Her dog has been reduced to a bloody smear beneath the odd aircraft that just crashed in front of her, made into intergalactic roadkill, but still she calls for him.

"Paul..." a little louder than before, and the grip on the teddy bear tightens as fear starts to surge through her, gradually mixing with grief – because even if it's hard to swallow, and she wishes it weren't true, there's no denying her dog is dead.

It doesn't help none when what she assumes to be a door of some kind opens with a hiss, allowing smoke and the smell of electrical fire to seep out. Her heart is pounding inside her ribcage and her stomach is somersaulting, and there's so much going through her mind right now, but all she can manage to say is:

"Paul?" because she's in shock, and this time she chokes it out and she takes one step forward. She ducks her head to peer into the opening, and all she sees is darkness, now and then illuminated by sparks. She dares to get closer, because humans are curious creatures and she is no exception, and suddenly she is very desperate to know just what this strange craft holds.

If anything was broken, it healed before he could actually acknowledge it, and for that he's grateful. One less thing to worry about. However, regaining his sense of self and complete consciousness is another, trickier, matter entirely. He hears the door open with a groan and a hiss, and he knows he should be leaving, but there's another sound that stuns him for a few moments.

Paul, said again and again, quietly, frantically, frightfully. He doesn't know what a Paul is, isn't sure why this being outside of his ship is chanting it, but he knows he doesn't have time to think about it right now. He can smell the fires creeping through the wiring and he doesn't want to stick around long enough to find out if this hunk of junk is flammable.

With a deep groan, he hauls himself up, makes for the door, and that's about when his legs decide to give out. Even if he's free of injury, he's still dizzy, still disoriented, and he's barely able to acknowledge the young human standing a few feet away from him. It takes a moment, but he also realizes she isn't saying Paul anymore, either.

Whatever distance she had closed between herself and the craft, she's backing up doubling it the moment something shambles toward the door and collapses. She's in shock, and this isn't doing wonders for her state of mind, but she has enough sense to know it isn't human.

It also isn't dead. And she isn't sure if she should be afraid or relieved, and so she just stands there and clutches her teddy bear tight to her chest, as though that might calm her some. It doesn't, but she doesn't let go, even as she takes one small and cautious step forward again.

It isn't human and it isn't dead, but it most certainly isn't about to hurt her – or, at least, she hopes not. It looks dazed, maybe even hurt, and some part of her takes pity on the creature.

"A-are... Are you okay?" she finds herself asking as she cranes her neck and stares down at the being sprawled half in and half out of the wreckage. It's rubbing a hand lazily across its face, shaking its head back and forth in what she can only assume is an attempt to clear its mind. That is, if its mannerisms are anything like a human's.

She's talking again, and he finds himself groaning once more. He doesn't understand her, and a part of him thinks she must know that, but he also knows she's human. Therefore, she's a stubborn, thickheaded creature that will continue to babble, even if she knows he can't understand a word she's saying.

But at least she isn't screaming, or trying to kill him. So, for that, he finds himself grateful again and tries his best to respond. Unfortunately, the only word he knows in her tongue is, "Paul."

She understands instantly that he's only mimicking her, that he must have heard her calling for her dog. She swallows hard, fights back a surge of sorrow as she's reminded once again of her dog's demise, then slowly closes all distance between them.

It's mostly to keep her mind off her dog, but partly because she feels sorry for this strange, little gray man. She cautiously bends down, taking her first real and good look at him. It's dark, but she can see him well enough, and now he's staring back at her with just as much curiosity. She wonders what he thinks of her, if he finds her as strange and as fascinating.

She says nothing, slowly reaching under him and trying to pull him back to his feet. He can't stay the way he is, strewn half in and half out of the ruined ship, just in case it decides to blow.

He doesn't resist her help, though he does question it. Of course, she won't understand him, but the words are leaving his mouth before he can even think twice. She doesn't say anything in response, just tries to keep him steady on his feet until they're what feels like a safe distance from the crash.

Gracelessly, they both wind up on the ground when his legs give out again, and even if it's clear he won't hurt her, she scurries away quickly. Not that he blames her; he's kind of freaked out by her, too. He's seen humans before, sure, but he's never been this close to one, and she's strange and beautiful in her own way, he supposes – even if her body is too big for comfort, and he finds her head ridiculously small.

She kneels a few inches away from him, unable to help but feel a little shy under his gaze. It's intense and evaluating and she quickly searches for some means to distract herself.

She realizes her teddy bear was left behind, probably when she hoisted him up. She spots it, back by the ship, tells him she'll be right back without even acknowledging the language barrier between them, and quickly goes to retrieve her toy. She picks it up, brushes off stray pieces of grass and some dirt, then slowly makes her way back over to him. He's still watching, and suddenly very nervous, she finds herself giggling.

To her surprise, he chuckles back.

His head has cleared for the most part, and even if he's sore, he's sure he could get up and hold his own now. That doesn't mean he will, though. For one thing, where would he go? His ship's useless, and it isn't exactly like he knows anybody here on Earth. So, to stay as he is, leaning back on his elbows and silently studying this little human girl, is his best he can do for the time being.

And if Earth's government is as neurotic as it's rumored to be, he knows it won't be long at all before someone else is out here, and carting him off to who-knows-where. He mentally steels himself for whatever's to come, but doesn't dwell too much on it – mostly because this kid is suddenly holding out her plush toy to him, saying something he guesses means, "do you want to hold it?" Or something like it, anyway.

He stares at the brown, furred toy, then slowly takes it one hand. He's never been good with younger generations, of any species, so he finds himself just sort of smiling crookedly, and nodding once. It's really of no comfort, and he actually finds it kind of odd, but he'll humor her.

It's the least he can do, really, since he's pretty sure she just saved his life. And for that, he owes her much, much more than a smile.

They stay that way for what feels like ever, but in reality it's just a little more than two hours.

And that is all the time they'll have, because there are two pitch black cars headed down the highway and straight for them. The men in black will take him away and try to convince her parents to convince her that all of it – especially him – was some sort of hallucination brought on by radioactivity and that her dog was crushed by a meteor and not an alien spacecraft.

They will take him to a desolate place in Nevada, a secret government base, and they will keep him there and use him for all he's worth. Which, they will find out, is a lot more than anticipated. And he will keep the teddy bear, mostly because he'll forget to give it back to her when the men cart him off.

They have but seconds left before it all comes to an end, and neither of them can be sure what the future holds, but both of them can be certain that after this night, their lives will never be the same again.