My name is Jane.
That's my first name, obviously. I can't tell you my last name. The Controllers are everywhere. Everywhere. And if they knew my full name, they could find me and my friends, and then…well, let's just say I don't want them to find me. I won't even tell you where I live. You'll just have to trust that it's a real place, a real town. Maybe even your town.
…Oh, what the hell. It's Lane, and I live in Lawndale, Maryland. It's not like I'm going to actually let anybody read this while the war is going on. Telling you my species is too much of a giveaway.
My life used to be pretty normal—or at least, it could pass for "normal" in retrospect. The real weirdness began one Friday night when I was at the mall with my friend Daria. Neither of us are exactly "mall" people, but there was this cool new store that sold art supplies and I had dragged her there to help me shop. We were just hanging out, talking about the newest stupid report that we had seen on Sick, Sad World.
Though, going with retrospect again, the thread of our conversation seems strangely prophetic.
"I'm just saying that if there were any aliens smart enough to come here they wouldn't be stupid enough to come here."
"There goes my trick ear again. What was that?" Daria asked as she hefted a bag of paint onto the checkout counter.
I placed my bags beside hers as the cashier began to price them. "Let's say I'm an alien and you're you."
"Part of this better be hypothetical."
"Now, why would I, a highly advanced being from the planet Zippotron, travel light-years just to take over your body and go to high-school?"
"Because Wednesday's Jell-o day?"
"Exactly. Wouldn't it—"
"Uh, excuse me?" the cashier said, looking annoyed at our conversation. "That'll be 73.10."
"Well, there goes the last of my birthday money…"
After we left the art store we decided to swing by Books By The Ton to pick up the reading assignment for English class. While there we happened to see Jodie, one of our saner schoolmates. She fell into step beside us as we began walking towards the exit.
"Hey. Picking up the Milton book for Mr. O'Neill's class?"
"Forsooth," Daria said.
"How far did he say we had to read by Monday?"
"The first part, I think. Speaking of which, when did Mr. DeMartino say that next essay was due?"
"Wednesday. You've already started, right?"
"Nah. But I've narrowed my topic down to 'something to do with history.' That's a start, right?"
Jodie gave me a disapproving stare. Jodie was one of the few kids from school who had half a brain, but she was all about trying to get the perfect GPA and cram as many activities as possible into her busy schedule. Daria was probably about as smart as her, but neither one of us was really that studious.
We stepped out into the mall parking lot, where we immediately saw a girl with her back to us stomping her foot, scoffing with impotent rage. Jodie pointed. "Daria, isn't that your sister?"
"Huh?" The girl spun around, startled. It was, indeed, Daria's younger sister, Quinn. "What are you doing here?"
"Paying for some horrible crime in a past life. You?"
"Waiting for my stupid ride to pick me up," she grumbled, pocketing her cell phone. "I have had the worst day ever. The Fashion Club was supposed to meet at Cashman's to discuss the new Spring colors, but Sandi and Tiffany just ditched me without calling for this stupid new club they're a part of, Stacy had to leave early and now none of the guys I'm dating this week will give me a ride home!"
Quinn, in case you can't tell, is pretty much the opposite of Daria: shallow, self-absorbed and not exactly bright. She's so perfectly pretty that it's almost as annoying as every word that comes out of her mouth, which are about as substantial as your average Val article.
"You could just walk," Jodie suggested, turning to Daria. "Your house isn't too far from here, right?"
"Uh, hello? Do these look like walking shoes to you?"
"I'm sure you'll survive," Daria said. "We can save time by cutting through the old construction site."
Quinn's eyes widened. "The one with all the serial killers and homeless people and stuff?"
"Don't forget the puppy kickers," I joked, enjoying the horror on Quinn's face.
"It'll be fine," Jodie said, rolling her eyes as she put a hand on Quinn's back and led her with us through the parking lot. "This is Lawndale. The worst we're liable to find is a couple of bums asking for change."
"And it'll be dark, so nobody will even notice that we're walking together," Daria added sarcastically.
"Fine," Quinn grumbled, but she didn't look convinced.
To get to our part of town from the mall you can either go a long way around, which is the safe way, or cut through this old construction site. It was a big area, surrounded by trees on two sides, with a street separating it from the mall. There's a broad, open field between it and the nearest houses. I think it was supposed to be a new shopping center, but after a while something stalled the construction. People kept saying it was going to start up again, but it had been dormant for more than a year by now.
As we headed for the highway we caught sight of another familiar face, which was beginning to become annoyingly common. "Why, hello there, ladies."
"Oh, no," Quinn groaned, and for once I could agree with her.
It was Upchuck. He's this guy in me and Daria's grade, and has the rare distinction of actually being less popular than we are. He doesn't seem to know it, though—in fact, he's pretty much the clingiest, smarmiest guy in existence. Think Urkel's personality transferred into the body of Howdy-Doody. But more annoying.
"You all weren't planning to cut through the construction site alone, were you?" he asked. He always spoke in this stupid tone of affected suaveness, like he was sure that any girl he talked to was already melting in his presence. "Because a gentleman like myself simply could not allow such fair damsels to take that risk…unescorted."
"Hmm…potential ax murderer, Upchuck. Potential ax murderer, Upchuck." I rubbed my chin, turning to Daria. "Tough choice, isn't it?"
"Actually, I would feel kind of safer if he went with us," Jodie said.
We all stared at her. She leaned closer, lowering her voice. "Look, I'm just saying that if there are any crazed ax murderers in there, statistically, they're less likely to attack if they see a guy with us."
"Plus, potential human shield," I conceded.
"Alright, alright, fine!" Quinn snapped. "Let's just hurry up before somebody sees us."
"Rrrrr, feisty," Upchuck chuckled. "Ladies first." He bowed, motioning across the empty street. We rolled our eyes as we passed him.
Daria and I had used this way home before, but it was already dark now, which made the whole place seem even creepier than usual. It was totally deserted, full of half-finished building and a few pieces of old equipment that nobody had bothered to move. There were all sorts of shadowy corners and the occasional sound of a stray animal yowling. My sneakers hit beer cans and liquor bottles as I walked; once or twice we had even found the ashes of little campfires. The meager shelter attracted a lot of homeless people, I guess.
Admittedly, it was kind of a cool scene, sort of like a tiny, decrepit ghost town. Every time we passed through here I thought that I should come back during the day with my sketch pad and practice some doodles. But now I wanted to hurry up and get out of there. I wasn't at all confident that Upchuck could take a stray cat in a fight, let alone a serial killer.
You know, sometimes I think about that one, last moment when we were still just normal teenagers. Or what passes for normal, anyway. At that moment I was mostly thinking about how tired my arms were from carrying my bags of art supplies, and whether or not I could swing them around to beam a hypothetical serial killer (or Upchuck) in the head if it came to that.
Seriously, at that moment my biggest fear was just getting a chainsaw to the head. Five minutes later, that would seem downright tame in comparison.
It was Quinn who saw it first. She was hanging out at the back of the group, but walking uncomfortably close to Daria and me; I think her physical and social self-preservation instincts were warring with each other. She pointed at the sky, almost straight up. "What's that?"
We looked up. There was a brilliant blue-white light scooting across the sky. It went fast at first, too fast to be an airplane, then began to slow down. Upchuck was the first to stop walking.
"I…think it's just a meteorite," he said uncertainly.
"It looks more like a…"
"A what?" Daria asked, turning to me.
My mouth shut. What I had been about to say sounded like a joke, but all of a sudden I wasn't quite so sure.
The light stopped right above our heads. Then, it slowly started to descend toward us. And as it came closer, I realized that my aborted joke was right.
Daria gave an uncharacteristic gasp that came out almost like a hiccup. Quinn's eyes widened. But it was Jodie who actually said it.
"It's a—flying saucer."
"No way," Daria said, but her tone made it clear that she had been thinking the same thing.
I could feel my heart beating rapidly in my chest as the spaceship descended toward us.
"It's coming this way," Quinn said. Her voice quavered, and she took a shaky step back.
"I think you're right," Upchuck whispered. To my surprise he was actually smiling, and his tone sounded more awed than anything.
I stepped back a few paces, trying to get a better look at the spaceship. It was more egg- than saucer-shaped, with stubby wings and glowing blue shafts extending back. The weirdest feature was what looked sort of like a tail—it curved up and over the rest of the ship, pointing forward. It looked as sharp as a needle, giving the whole thing a weird, dangerous look.
The ship kept getting lower. It seemed to be giving off some sort of static electricity—I could feel my short hair standing up, and I almost laughed when I looked at the others—Daria, Quinn and Jane all had long hair that was hovering above their heads in every direction. Upchuck was the only one of us who looked slightly normal (for a change, I thought wryly).
"I think we should run," Quinn said, nervously trying to straighten her hair down. I realized that she was shaking. "What if that thing—tries to shoot us with its lasers or whatever?"
"It hasn't shot us yet," I murmured without thinking.
"But what makes us think it won't?"
"Does anyone have a camera?" Upchuck wondered. He began to chuckle. "I mean, this…this is incredible! This is a real live alien spacecraft!"
"Are we sure?" I wondered.
Nobody answered. I took a deep breath. I wasn't sure what to think right now; I felt terrified and excited at the same time.
The ship came lower and lower, coming down near a jumble of half-finished walls about twenty feet from us. It was about the size of a school bus. I noticed more details—glistening chrome, but marred with huge patches of black, like burn marks. Dents that marred its otherwise perfect smoothness. Spots that looked like they had been melted.
"It looks kind of beat up," Jodie noted.
Daria nodded. "Yeah."
The ship touched the ground. Instantly all its lights turned off and I felt my hair fall back to my shoulders.
"We should call someone," Upchuck suggested. "Does anyone have a…cell phone…?"
He trailed off; none of us moved. We simply watched the ship, waiting for something to happen.
"Maybe there's nobody inside it," I suggested after a long moment. "Maybe it's like a, what do you call it—a drone."
"Maybe." Jodie looked at the rest of us. "Do you—think we should try to talk to it?"
"Do you think we can?"
"I only know enough Martian to ask where the bathroom is," Daria muttered.
"We have to try," Upchuck said.
Daria bit her lip, then nodded. "Yeah." She jerked her head at the ship. "So go say hello, Upchuck."
He jumped. "What? Why me?"
"Because you said you were walking us through the construction site to protect us. So go on, Captain Muscle."
"But I—I didn't—ohhh."
I felt almost sorry for the guy as his awe turned to terror and then shoulder-slumping resignation. Though honestly, my pity was tempered by relief that I could probably run away while the Xenomorphs were still laying eggs in his stomach.
Upchuck swallowed and took a few steps toward the spaceship. He held out his hands and spread them, as if trying to show that he wasn't carrying any sort of weapon or anything.
"Um…hello, visitors from Mars!" It sounded like he was trying to use the same sycophantic tone he reserved for teachers, but his obvious nervousness ruined the already pitiful effect. "Welcome to planet Earth! Um…my name is Chuck Ruttheimer. We…come in peace?"
"Isn't that their line?"
As if it heard me (maybe it did), a voice from the ship responded.
((I come in peace as well.))
We all jumped, especially Upchuck. Quinn looked around wildly, searching for the source of the sound. Except there wasn't a sound—just words, a disembodied voice echoing in my head.
"Did…everyone else hear that?" Daria asked slowly.
"I did," Jodie said.
"Me too," Quinn muttered meekly.
Upchuck smiled nervously. He took another step toward the ship. "Um…can you…come out of there?"
((Yes. Do not be frightened.))
Suddenly, a thin arch of light appeared in the side of the spaceship, then expanded inward to form a bright, glowing white space. We all took a collective step backwards. I realized I was shaking. I couldn't help it. I saw Quinn grab Daria's arm instinctively, while Jodie drew closer to the rest of us.
The alien appeared in the archway.
Have you ever seen one of those half-horse guys from Greek mythology? Picture that covered in short blue fur. It also had horns—or what I thought were horns, until I noticed that they were moving. They were actually stalks with eyes on the end, growing right out of the top of its head. It had two normal eyes too, which were a bright, sparkling green. When I looked closer I also noticed that it didn't have a nose or mouth, just three sort of slits running down from the bottom of its face.
The last detail that I noticed was the tail. It grew out of the horse part, but looked nothing like a horse's bundle of stingy hair. It was thick, arched over its back, like the "tail" on its spaceship. Near the end it had what looked like a scorpion's stinger, except it was more like a scythe made of bone or something.
The alien stepped shakily out of the spaceship, ducking its head as it came. It stared at us with all four eyes. Then, suddenly, it staggered and fell to the ground. We all jumped again—Upchuck ran forward, hesitated for a moment, then tried to help it back up. The alien stood steady for a second, but then its four legs collapsed again, and Upchuck nearly fell over with it.
Jodie ran over, and without thinking the rest of us followed. Quinn gasped, pointing to the alien's side. It was red and black and bleeding. "Look! I think he's hurt!"
((Yes. I am dying,)) the alien said. Its main eyes focused on Quinn, while the stalk eyes shifted to glance at each of us in turn.
"I took a first aid class once," Jodie said quickly. She surveyed us each in turn. "Maybe if we make some kind of a bandage—" Her eyes rested on the red over-shirt I was wearing. "Jane, let me see that—"
((No. I will die. The wound is fatal. UGH!))
The alien let out a cry. We all staggered back—it wasn't just a voice that time, but something almost like physical pain, but muted, like an echo of his agony. For a second I couldn't breathe. I looked at Daria. "There's gotta be something we can do," she said. "Call a hospital or—"
((All you must do is listen, the alien said. There is…a grave threat facing your planet.))
"What do you mean?" Jodie asked.
((I am…not the only visitor to come to this world. I believe there are…many, many others. But we were not expecting so many, so soon…))
"What are you talking about?" Quinn sounded almost hysterical. "Other—other—aliens? Like you?"
((Not like me. They are different.))
"How?" I asked.
The alien gave me a dark look with his main eyes as the stalk eyes lowered.
((They have come to destroy you.))