The wreckage from the UFO is scattered around the parking lot like fallen stars strewn across the ground, each piece of shrapnel burning like a flare. The asphalt looks as though it’s been plowed, a massive furrow leading to the main carcass of the ship. Strange colored smokes and crackles of electricity and who-know-what spurt intermittently from the craft, which is shaped roughly like some giant crab.
Nobody is around yet, but nobody could have missed the crash, what with the sonic booms and the meteoric tail. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Or maybe the wrong place at the right time. I didn’t fancy being probed or exploded or whatever.
Sirens pipe up in the distance. Curiosity gets the better of me. If this is real, then I’m the first person to see it, and after the government gets involved I’m certain that won’t be the case. I step closer to get a better look. One thing was for sure, this ship is definitely alien. Like a mix of Halo’s Covenant and something from a particularly cheesy episode of the old Star Trek, but designed in ways that humans would never attempt; strange curves that messed with the eyes, odd structure, bizarre colors and patterns. It was fairly small, like a fighter, or a scout craft.
Suddenly, the front of the ship split apart, folding into segments and belching smoke and vapor. I stood rooted to the spot as a strange shape emerged from the belly of the ship. It was a genuine, certified alien. There was no way this creature could be faked. Eight legs close to the ground supporting a tall, willowy body, a crested head with three eyes that blinked in spastic patterns, a back coated with tiny tentacles, four arms with disturbingly human hands at the end of each. That was enough for me. I turned to run.
“Wait!” the creature cried, it’s voice flute-like and yet strangely hoarse. How in the world did it speak English? I looked over my shoulder. “Please, help me!”
It felt really weird talking to it, but I did anyway. “I don’t think there’s anything I can do… bro.”
“You don’t understand!” the alien wheezed. “I cannot allow the Chronis Device to fall into the wrong hands!”
“I’m just a grocery clerk, dude. Nobody important.” I take a few steps toward the ship. “I don’t need any problems in my life.”
“Your presence here is not coincidence,” he (it?) said. “Fate has crossed our paths.”
“I don’t believe in fate, man. Why should you even trust me? We’ve never met. I could be a psychopath for all you know.”
“Even if that were true, it would be better than falling into the hands of the Collective. They would undo the universe with this device.”
I am now intrigued and alarmed. The sirens are growing closer. I come closer to the alien. We are almost within touching distance. “How would they do that? What does this Chronis thing do?'”
The creature gives a shuddering gasp, and two of its legs go limp. It extends its tail into the crashed ship and pulls out a small device that looks sort of like a pocket watch or a medallion. It is golden and lustrous, with some simple machinery and carvings around the edges. The alien holds it out to me.
“This device…” he coughs. “Will allow you to travel through time.”
“No way,” I say automatically, although given the fact that I am speaking to an alien amid the wreckage of a crashed ship, I suppose time travel is not unreasonable.
“It is true,” the alien says. “You can travel through time, but not space. You may travel to any point in the past, but not in the future. You may bring anyone you can touch. That is all.”
The volume of the approaching sirens jumps noticeably as ambulances and police cars arrive on our street. They have a clear line of sight to the vehicle.
“You must decide quickly,” the alien says. Another three of its legs give out. “Your authorities cannot be allowed to control the Chronis. They are in league with the Collective.”
My head is spinning too much to make sense of this crazy five minutes, but my gut acts for me, snatching the medallion from the alien’s hands. “Fine,” I say, since I’ve apparently accepted.
“Thank you, earthling,” the creature gasps. I’m about to run, but it stops me. “One more thing. You must be careful with this responsibility. If you choose to travel through time, even the smallest action could potentially alter your history in drastic ways. You must take this.”
He holds out a small disc the size of a quarter. It shimmers in a strange, mesmerizing fashion, like an oil spill on the pavement. “Press this against the back of your head,” says the alien. The emergency vehicles are almost here. I do what he says without thinking. A sharp pain shoots through my neck, and I’m afflicted with a paralyzing headache for about five seconds, a concentrated dose of migraine. Then the pain fades. The disc is attached to my skin as though it has been grafted on.
“That is a temporal anchor,” the alien says. “It will keep your personal existence stable, to prevent paradoxes. It also acts as a neural link to allow you to operate the Chronis device with your thoughts.”
The police cars have pulled up to a halt only a hundred feet away. Their doors are opening.
“Run!” says the alien. “Go!”
I take off, heading the opposite direction, to take the alleyway behind the store. The alien calls out after me. “Beware the authorities! Beware the Collective! And be careful!”
And then he must have activated the self-destruct, because the ship explodes violently, with flames in every color of the rainbow, but the explosion is contained within a twenty-foot sphere. I take advantage of the distraction and I run.
I know with all the commotion, the cops didn’t see who I was, and they won’t be trying to find out, at least not for a little while. I’m able to take the back roads home without encountering another soul.
I finally reach my lousy apartment and lock the door. Then I collapse onto the couch and stare blankly at the wall until my brain catches up to the present. I feel the disc in the back of my head. Eventually, I pull out the medallion and take a long, hard look at it. I look at the clock. Five after midnight. I focus on the medallion, and make a wish. I look at the clock. 11:30. I blink in surprise, and the clock jumps back to 12:05.
This is real, says my brain. And then the second thought. Now what?
Vegrik of the second brood approached Yond of the third and splayed his legs in respect. “Hife of the second brood has returned, and the subject has been tagged successfully, sire.”
Yond’s cilia writhed in pleasure and anticipation. “Excellent work, Vegrik. The subject houses no suspicions?”
“That does not seem to be the case, sire.”
“Interesting. Surely he must ask himself of the convenience of the scenario.”
“Humans seem to have a high tolerance for the absurd.”
“What of the fact that we spoke his tongue?”
“Their own entertainment has inoculated them against this. He will imagine a reason.”
“What of the most glaring error of all? Surely this creature will ask himself why the supposed crash landing could not have been prevented by the use of the Chronis device, or why the pilot of an alien vessel has a device readily on hand that can interface with a human’s neural patterns?”
“Perhaps he will someday, sire, but our research suggests that humans can be remarkably poor at noticing such things. Besides, the subject said he did not believe in fate, and so is unlikely to devote much thought to the matter.”
“Indeed. It is an interesting corollary, since after viewing so much of their culture, I am of the opinion that the archetype of the ‘chosen one’ is so deeply ingrained in their culture that even though he protests his disbelief of such matters, his ego will not allow him to investigate thoughts that may disprove this theory now that he is one of said chosen.”
“If only he knew that he was a random selection from a pool of the most average citizens of this planet,” said Yond, blinking three times in unison to emphasize the thought. “Well, we shall see how he reacts now that he believes in his responsibility. You are certain he cannot actually alter the past?”
“Yes, the alleged temporal anchor is functioning perfectly. The Chronis will only allow him to access artificial universes which we can manage at will, while his neural transmitter will relay all the information back to us.”
“Excellent work, Vegrik. The experiment seems to be functioning perfectly.”
“Thank you sire. In addition, the theme of secrecy is also deeply embedded and will prevent the subject from seeking help, which could cause interference.”
Yond did not answer for some time, staring out the warship’s window at the planet Earth rotating slowly below. Vegrik waited respectfully, though his cilia bunched up in excitement.
“In a way,” Yond said at last, “he is a chosen one. He may have been randomly selected, but his choices will provide us with the data we need to determine whether his species lives or dies. The fate of the world is upon his shoulders, though he doesn’t know it.”
“A fate like no other, sire.”
General Yond of the third brood blinked rapidly in agreement. “Very well. Give the subject a few days, and if he does not act on his own, send in the Collective as a catalyst.”
“Yes sire,” said Vegrik, and scurried off down the labyrinthine corridors of the Ylbes warship. The next few days were bound to be interesting.