Of the Future and the Past

It was Saturday, two in the morning, and they were where Saturday two in the morning always took them: the far side of Northfield Park, close to where the state forest started but not quite in the state forest. Drinking in the state forest came with hefty fines and, at this point, probably jail time. Drinking next to the state forest came with diddly squat. After getting kicked out of the bar they’d take their truck and a couple of six packs and drive down to the park and then into the park. As long as they stayed on the east side of the wooden fence, no one ever seemed to give a shit. Here, they could be alone, and talk about all the important things they couldn’t talk about in the light of day, or around other people.

“They’re not canon,” Ray said.

“They fucking are, how can you not see this for fuck’s sake,” Lonnie said.

They both shook their heads at each other while sipping from their beers, bottles swinging back and forth against each other like some weird prop in a stage play.

“They’re books, okay?” Ray said. “Books. Written by lots of different people-”

“Oh, and the movies and shows are all written by the same fucking person?”

“-And some of them contradict each other-”

“George is just out here penning every God damned line.”

and they’re not immediately accessible to the general fandom.”

Lonnie held his hands out, sloshing beer over the side. They had already each finished four of their six beers, although each one had gone a little slower than the last. These last two could sustain them for another hour. At least, they could if they didn’t keep spilling.

Immediately accessible?” Lonnie asked. “What the fuck does that even mean?”

“Everyone can see a movie! They take, what, two hours at most? But books are harder. And there’s too many to keep up. Walk up to any random person on the street, ask them if they know-”

Lonnie held up a hand in a stop motion and asked Ray a single question.

“What?”

Ray frowned, trying to figure out if Lonnie had actually lost the plot or if this was some new tactic of his to win the argument. Lonnie wasn’t looking at him. Lonnie was looking over him. Up, at the sky. Ray turned to follow his gaze and felt his bowels turn to water.

The round ship hovering over the park should have made noise. Lots of noise. It was barely thirty yards away and roughly the size of a barn, if the barn was completely round and made of smooth metal. It was completely silent as it sat fifty feet over a bunch of soccer field. Despite the fact that it was a smooth metal ship with no windshield or obvious front, let alone a face, Ray and Lonnie were both convinced it was staring at them. Waiting.

Ray took a sip of his beer.

“What the fuck,” Lonnie whispered at him. “How can you drink at a time like this?”

“What?” Ray whispered back. “It’s just sitting there.”

“We are in the presence of alien life forms-”

“You don’t know that.”

Lonnie shot the back of Ray’s head such a look of incredulity it should have set his thinning hair on fire.

“I would love to know what else that could be, Raymond, if not an alien spaceship from outer space.”

Ray, keeping his eyes on the as-yet-unconfirmed alien space craft, shrugged his shoulders. “Could be one of them military ships. Something they don’t want anyone to know about yet.”

“So why the Christ would they be flying it in front of us?”

“I don’t know. Why would aliens be showing up in front of us?”

Ray had him there, but Lonnie didn’t want to admit it. He took a long swig from his beer, hoping something would happen with the ship before he Ray could say anything else.

With barely more sound than that little hiss of carbonation when a bottle was opened, three spots at the base of the round ship popped out. The spots lengthened to become landing gear, and in a matter of seconds the ship was sitting on three legs.

“If it is the government,” Ray asked, “Do you think they’re here to tell us off for parking on the grass?”

Lonnie sighed.

Another spot on the ship opened up, this one larger and a little higher up. They’d both seen movies to know what was happening – whoever was inside was finally coming out.

Stairs stretched down from the ship to the ground. Light, white and painful to look at, poured out from the new doorway, making Lonnie and Ray squint. New shadows cut through, followed by the sounds of footsteps on the stairs and across the grass.

When Ray and Lonnie dared to look up again, they were face to face with a couple of actual, living aliens.

They mostly looked human. Actually, it was terrifying how human they looked.

Real uncanny valley shit, Ray thought to himself. Like Max Headroom banged one of those high-tech sex dolls and popped out a couple of them CW teenagers. They were too tall, too muscular, their faces too pretty. Something about their face was wrong in a way Lonnie couldn’t place. Waxy, almost, but also too dry.

“Fellers,” Lonnie said, nodding his head. Ray wanted to strangle him.

“He-lo,” one of the aliens said in a stilted, new language sort of way. “I…am…Sool. This is…my…associate…Trell.”

“’meetcha,” Lonnie said. “I’m Lonnie, that’s Ray.”

“Will you stop talking to the aliens like they’re out-of-staters?” Ray asked.

“Well, what the fuck else am I suppose to do, Ray? Bow and kiss their feet?” He turned to the aliens. “Is that what you want? Bowing?”

Sool made a sound that sort of sounded like a laugh after a head injury. “No bowing. That is…uh…um…unnecessary.”

“Cool. So, what brings you to earth?”

“Lonnie, I swear to God…”

Trell smiled and Lonnie almost shit his pants. “We are…scientists…doing important work. Very important work. We need specimens. Yes, specimens.”

Ray and Lonnie gripped their bottles, cold sweat breaking out on their foreheads and neck. They knew all the stories, heard crazy Denise ranting about it back at the bar. Alien kidnappings. Probing and such. Not stuff they ever thought was real, let alone something they’d actually have to worry about. Ray started thinking about running and serpentining. Lonnie started thinking about how Ray would definitely start serpentining and that would let him get to the truck first.

Sool held up something he’d been holding the whole time. It looked sort of like a tablet, only completely transparent and glowing a color neither of the men had ever seen. If forced to identify it, Ray would have called it burnt orange-brown-purple, and Lonnie would have called it the color of stubbing your toe in the middle of the night on the exact ottoman you told yourself to put away before you went to bed and forgot. Sool tapped a few times with his unnaturally smooth fingers, and just as Ray was about to bug out, the alien held up the tablet.

Some sort of dinosaur was pictured. Ray and Lonnie didn’t know much about the things except what they had seen in those Jurassic Park movies Hollywood refused to stop making, so they didn’t know precisely which one they were looking at, but they both knew a dinosaur when they saw one.

“We are looking for these,” Trell said, pointing. “We think they are…scientifically interesting…and would like to…um…study one. Yes.”

Ray and Lonnie looked at each other.

“Dinosaurs?” Ray asked.

Sool and Trell made inhuman sounds that either indicated delight or gas.

“You know them?” Sool asked.

Lonnie shrugged. “Everyone knows the dinosaurs.”

“You will bring us to the…dinosaurs,” Trell said. “Please.”

Lonnie rubbed the back of his head. “I’m pretty plotzed to drive that far.”

“Me, too,” Ray said. “Museum’s in the city, prolly…I don’t know, two hour drive? And they won’t even be open until the morning.”

Sool deliberately blinked, perhaps noticing the way Ray and Lonnie blinked. Of course, now Ray couldn’t not notice that Sool and Trell didn’t blink at all.

“This is where they live?” Sool asked. “Museums?”

“Well, not live,” Ray said. “That’s where the bones are, though. And those dioramas they make.”

“How do you think you get a job making those, anyway?”

“Not now, Lonnie.”

“We do not understand,” Trell said. “We do not want bones. We want to see the live dinosaurs.”

Lonnie was the first one to understand, and was now faced with the unenviable task of explaining to aliens almost definitely wearing skin suits that there were no more living dinosaurs on the planet and hadn’t been for so long that the number meant literally nothing to Lonnie. He was also fairly certain these aliens were wearing human skinsuits and didn’t know how they would react to finding out that-

“The dinosaurs are all dead,” Ray said.

“Fucking hell.” Lonnie rubbed his face.

“We do not understand,” Sool said.

“Yeah, dead,” Ray said. “Long dead. Like, millions of years dead. Right, Lonnie?”

“I was going to ease them into it, Ray.”

Ray considered that that might have been the better course of action and took another sip of his beer.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to spring it on you.”

Trell shook his head and shoulders in stiff motions. “You said everyone knows the dinosaurs.”

“Yeah, and everyone knows they’re dead, too. Ancient stuff.”

Trell and Sool spoke to each other in rapid, low pitched buzzing noises that were definitely not coming from whatever human mouths they were wearing. There was a definite sound to the noises, frustrated sounds, but the human faces were completely blank and pleasant.

“This does not make sense,” Sool said after a few seconds. “We saw them on our scopes. It is why we came.”

Ray shrugged, at a loss, but Lonnie had an idea.

“Y’all got that FTL? Faster than light travel?” he explained when they didn’t recognize the acronym.

“In a way. It…what it does…it does…I do not know human words. Yes, faster than lightspeed.”

“Well, there you go,” Lonnie said, like it was obvious. Which it was. To him. The other three only stared at him with the same blank face until Lonnie sighed. “I don’t know where you’re from, but it’s obviously far enough that the light reaching you from Earth is from millions of years ago. When the dinosaurs were still alive. See? That’s, like, the whole basis of lightspeed. Or something. But then you skip on over here faster than light and end up in the present, and you’ve missed them. By a lot. Need a time machine to get back to them, I think.”

They started talking to each other in their language again, the human faces eerily still. They seemed to be getting angry, but at each other, so Ray felt like it was probably safe. Slowly, another thought bloomed in his mind.

“Y’all aren’t scientists, are you?”

The aliens stopped arguing and turned to stare at him.

“Yeah, see, I didn’t totally understand what Lonnie here was saying, but it sort of sounds right. But then I got to thinking, shouldn’t you two know about lightspeed and the past and all? You’re not scientists. Fuck, I bet you two are just kids who jacked their daddy’s ship for the weekend.”

The two aliens stared at Ray. Lonnie couldn’t decide if Ray was completely right or if they were about to be vaporized. Or both. Both could happen.

“We only wanted to see the dinosaurs,” Trell said, sounding sad.

“They looked…human word…they looked rad,” Sool said.

“Probably were. Now you’re stuck with a bunch of hairless mammals,” Ray said. “That sucks.”

“Hairless mammals with consciousness,” Lonnie added. “Super sucks.”

Ray nodded sagely. “Yeah, we’re terrible.”

Sool kicked the ground a little, his face a neutral rictus. “We should go home. Before…father…”

Without so much as a ‘bye the bye’ the two alien teenagers climbed back into their perfectly round spaceship. The ladder rose up and sealed shut, followed by the legs, and then the smooth ship rose up silently and crossed through the atmosphere. Ray and Lonnie watched until the little light blended in with the stars and winked out of existence.

“Welp,” Ray said. “No one’s going to believe that.”

Lonnie looked up to the sky again and nodded. “Really puts all our problems into perspective, don’t you think?”

Ray nodded with him , then frowned and shook his head. “What the fuck are you talking about?


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