Area 51, South Nevada
Death must have been instantaneous.
In a typical crash landing, the body's bones cannot but shatter upon impact, dissolving into a mangled mass of liquid and dust. It would also be burned beyond recognition in the resulting explosion.
This was no different.
It has been said that dead bodies tell stories. And in this case, the story is incomplete. Has been for decades.
The man stared at the tiny body through the protective glass case with no small measure of revulsion.
Half of the torso was charred, and partially fallen away at the hip socket. The other half that had been protected by a fire-proof suit had melted and then bonded to the flesh in the intense heat. The ridged, rotting flesh had been hurriedly but carelessly preserved so all that was left were wrinkled folds around a crushed skull. With hollowed-out eye sockets and half-severed limbs, the embalmed creature had taken on the grotesque appearance of a bog body.
It lay horizontal in a custom-made bullet-proof glass case, a perfect specimen that looked as though it had been taken out of an eighteenth-century cabinet of curiosities, crossed several time periods and got transported straight into a secure military facility.
He moved on. The next stop was probably the exhibit that intrigued him the most.
It was a mangled mass of a yet-unidentified metal, nearly a metre long with the strangest decorative carvings on its tip, found in the same twenty-kilometre radius of the previous display. The writings ran the length of its entire vertical side, breaking off abruptly where the tip had shattered into powder. Its smooth surface was cracked and badly scratched, but some parts of it that had remained intact shimmered a dull chrome and gun-metal grey under the fluorescent light.
It had quickly provoked endless scientific speculation on its function and design, its metallic composition still a mystery.
He had walked this corridor many times, and he knew the VVIP-tour of this secret facility like he knew the back of his hand. The sights have never failed to arouse an equal measure of awe and fear each time he saw those specimens. It was breathtaking as much as it was hideous.
It made that need even more pressing.
"It's time," the man beside him murmured, seemingly just as transfixed by the sight before him. "Our spooks say it's close."
A pause. "We're sending someone."
"But the man's a mess," he argued, unconvinced. "Maybe we should get someone else."
"He's the best we've got," the other replied softly. "And he's the only one who can finish this cleanly."
"Sir, I don't think that you've realised the implications of do–"
"General, it's been discussed extensively. The rest agree."
"But we're talking about an officer who is at best, unstable and recently deactivated."
They studied the artefact intently and examined it from several angles, so that to all who looked at them merely saw two fascinated people bent over an exhibit.
"Nearly fifty years," he murmured.
"And the Earth's no less safe."
A long pause.
"Maybe that's what makes him the best choice for this," the man argued, unperturbed. "We'll give him ten days, slightly shorter than his usual missions. No more, no less."
"He might not come back." The statement was layered, and both of them knew it.
"But that was always a risk he knew," he said, ignoring the second implication.
"He might roll it up. Or he might succeed."
"That's exactly what I'm saying, which makes him a throwaway."
"Either way, anything's possible. Duty before self – haven't you heard?" He chuckled dryly. "That much he knows too. He'll do it."
"And if he doesn't?"
The man turned and stared into the distance thoughtfully. "Then no one is indispensable, didn't you know?"