Original Content The Hidden War: Chapter One

[Undisclosed location.]
[June 24, 19XX]
[Audio recording of General XXXXX X. XXXXXX, U.S. Army, retired.]

So, this conversation, the notes you're taking right now, it's all classified to hell and back. No one gets to know any of this until long after we're both... after you're dead. This... this is so the people who need to know, the men and women who stand on the wall. So they never forget.

The voice sounds like a man in his prime.

Let's start at the beginning.

Papers rustle.

It was naive, perhaps, to not think of who might be out there, in the vast gulfs between the stars. To not think of who might be listening. Over the course of decades, as we transitioned from telegrams and railways to radio and television, we inadvertently lit a beacon. A beacon that drew ancient, hungry eyes to our quiet little world. The flickering candlelight of a new civilization drew them, like moths to a flame, racing not to their destruction, but to ours.

Dr. Rice wrote that. She was always the smartest of us, even before. Always had a way with words.

Intelligence gathered later in the war would tell us that they began mobilizing far earlier than we could have imagined. The Szipher had spun a web of listening devices through the galaxy, ever listening for the birth of a new industrial species. Best we can tell, they had been culling civilizations since before the Ice Age here on Earth. As early as 1924, they had heard us, and begun to scheme.

For us, it all began in 1947.

There is an audible gasp of surprise on the tape, presumably from the note-taker.

That's right. In New Mexico, a little town called Roswell. It was barely more than a wide spot in the road back then, just another speck on the map near a run-down Army Air Field. I never did learn why they chose that spot for the Test, but it was their first mistake. The first of far too few, in my opinion.

The speaker stops for nearly a minute before being resuming, possibly having been prompted by the note-taker.

First, it wasn't a ship. We all thought it was, of course, but we eventually figured out it was a torpedo of sorts. Unmanned, so get those visions of alien dissection out of your head. That comes later.

Far from finding bodies, we found something truly strange. The Test. It was carefully packed into several crates made of some unknown plastic-like material. Light as a feather but tough as nails.

The Test was a series of eight cylinders, the end of each marked with alien text and symbols. The eggheads quickly figured out that the symbols corresponded with various universal constants; gravity, radiation decay, electrical resistance and the like. They figured it was a test to see if we were smart enough to bother talking to. If we could put it together, we were clever monkeys.

It was the greatest discovery in human history. Definitive proof we were not alone. Alien life existed, and wanted to talk to us. All we had to do was assemble a puzzle. So we did. Naively, foolishly, idiotically, we completed the cylinder.

Dr. Nakamura, Airman Epps, Dr, Horchel, and Lt. Cruz died immediately. On the whole, of those of us who were in that room, they were the lucky ones. Airman Jones and Commander Stewart died within hours. Dr. Lewis lingered in a coma for two months before passing. I changed, in that chaotic instant, though I didn't know how until later. So did Dr. Rice, thank God.

A prolonged pause.

The cylinder hummed to life with an eerie green glow. A strange... warbling sort of noise seemed to come from the air around us. The glow grew in intensity and the air crackled with power. Pustules of distortion appeared in the air as the space before us began to rot. Ectoplasm oozed from wounds in the stuff of space-time, and then the air tore like a rotten cloth.

By the violent application of arcane science, the space above the cylinder was linked to some other place, far across the galaxy. The visual distortion of two overlaid places

Something waddled into view. It looked for all the world like a telescope, but it was clearly alive. It shuffled on squat, ungainly legs and a nictating eyelid blinked idiotically at us from within the wound in space. It turned slowly, getting a clear view of the whole chamber, from the sealed airlock door to the vaulting concrete ceiling and across the viewing gallery, where sat a gaggle of stupefied goldbricks and senators.

Shaking off the shock caused by the total breakdown of reality before me, I drew my sidearm and fired a three rounds into the beast. It dropped to its haunches and green, brackish, fluid spattered the far wall of the chamber. A tether of some kind, looped around one of the beast's feet, was pulled taut and the body of the lens-beast was dragged from view. Strange sounds emanated from the breach and alien words clawed at my mind, daring me to understand them.

Ectoplasm flowed from the healthy space above the portal and the conjoined space-time began to heal. In a matter of moments, all was as it had been. The cylinder lay charred and smoking, its delicate circuits ruined beyond recognition. Airman Jones screamed and screamed, his mind shattered. Commander Stewart was curled into a fetal ball, muttering the Lord's Prayer.

We were at war.