A WAVE FROM A STRANGER
"Oh shit!" the four young volunteers shouted in
unison as they stepped off the rear ramp of the C130.
They stopped shouting quickly enough when the
wind hit them. Then the static lines jerked the chutes
open and their world became quieter as they drifted
down out of a clear blue sky. They had not been told
where or what they were dropping into so they
strained to look for anything they could identify on
"Oh shit!" shouted number 3.
"No," one of the others called back. "We've done that
"It's Area 51. We've been dropped into area 51. I
know it from the Internet," 3 shouted pointing at
some buildings on the ground, which was now
coming up fast.
They hit the ground, rolled, got the wind out of their
chutes, checked to see they hadn't broken any bones,
checked again, bundled up and discarded the chutes,
checked their equipment and changed their headgear.
They carried no weapons except, as their instructor
had constantly reminded them, that greatest of all
weapons the human brain.
They gathered around Number 1, for he carried the
sealed orders marked in red: Open Once on the
"Listen up," said 1, holding up a sketch map that
looked like it showed just a corner of something
larger. "We have to find our way here and make a
visual inspection of some materials .... "
"A weather balloon perhaps," said Number 2 grinning
at Number 3.
"We are to make a visual inspection, but no written
notes. We have to remember all we see for the
debriefing," said 1.
"Is that it? We draw our pay for playing silly games
like this. By the way, just how do we get to walk
about a secure area, a very secure area," said 4
looking around to see if any vehicles were racing
"It says here they're expecting us and we get these
passes," said 1, distributing them. They hung them
round their necks.
"So why use us for this," said 4. "They could just
have sent Mickey Mouse and his pals."
"OK Mickey let's go," said 1.
"Hey, no names remember the briefing," said 2.
"OK Number 2," the others shouted making
Number 1 switched to hand signals: quiet, move out,
single file. He took the point himself and had them
follow on in numerical order. It was hot, desert hot,
and they had a couple of hours on foot ahead of
them. What they had glimpsed and marked down as
nearby from the air was much further away on the
ground. They had one water-bottle each and these
were nearly empty as they approached the outlying
buildings. They'd seen no need to conserve water so
close to what was after all, a friendly base.
When they reached the nearest buildings they saw
that there was no perimeter. They guessed they were
already miles inside the main security. They passed a
few personnel, some armed some not, some in
uniforms they recognized and some they didn't.
Everyone exchanged salutes correctly but not as
smartly as they were used to. Number 3 said it was
probably because this was very much a closed
community and they'd have become used to each
other. Number 2 saluted the CC TV cameras as well
until Number 1 told him to stop.
They'd soon passed most of the buildings on the
sketch map and drew level with the last building
prior to the mission target. Number 3 pointed inside
and said, "Look it's a canteen. We could get a cold
drink and fill our water-bottles. We may not get the
chance again for a while."
They looked at Number 1. He looked at them and at
his watch and the sketch map. "OK but just 20
minutes," he said.
* * *
The debriefing was slow and careful. Four officers
sat directly across from the four volunteers. Two
large MPs stood at the door trying to look important
though no one paid any attention to them. The
Officer-in-Charge was in uniform but all indications
of rank and ID were missing. They tried to work it
out by looking for the marks on the cloth where these
had been and guessed he must be important. Even
though everything was being taped, a Master
Sergeant took pen and paper notes. There was a
rather obvious mirror-wall down one side of the
The volunteers grew increasingly impatient as the
details of their drop and walk in were recorded in
unnecessary detail. When the debriefing finally got
around to the events in the canteen they were
straining forward in their chairs and had to be
stopped from all shouting at once.
"OK let's hear it from Number 1," said the Officer-in-
"It wasn't a main canteen, more like a rest area," said
"There were a couple of guys there but they were
leaving as we arrived. They had a very close look at
our passes. They said it would be OK to make
ourselves a coffee, the stuff was all there, and fill our
water-bottles. Then Number 3 went for a pee. He
came back looking like he'd seen a ghost or
something. He could hardly speak properly. He just
kept pointing down this corridor and saying
something about taking a wrong turning and we all
had to go see it too."
Everyone turned to look at Number 3 who moved
around in his chair and looked like he was about to
lose his power of speech all over again.
Number 1 continued, "We followed him down the
corridor, in fact it was several corridors and then we
"Didn't you even stop to think about wandering about
in closed areas of a secure facility, a very secure
facility?" said the Officer-in-Charge.
"No sir," said Number 1, adding lamely that they had
"So tell us exactly what it was you saw." said the
"Yes sir," said Number 1. "There was a window set
into the wall of the corridor. Like the kind you get in
a hospital, you know for an isolation ward. There
were curtains but they were half open. So we could
see in. It wasn't well lit but there was a bed, a small
lamp and the light from the TV. But it was what was
in the bed that was crazy. You won't believe us."
"I'll be the judge of that," said the Officer-in-Charge.
"Who was in the bed?"
"That's it, not a who, a what," said Number 1. "It was
an alien, like something from Roswell but it was very
To his credit, the Officer-in-Charge took this in his
stride with no outward indications of surprise or
disbelief. The Master Sergeant who was taking notes
dropped his pen. The two large MPs exchanged
glances that suggested they wanted to go outside for
a good laugh. The other volunteers were quick to
loudly and earnestly give their support to what
Number 1 was saying.
"Right, as you were," said the Officer-in-Charge."
Continue Number 1."
"Well it was watching TV. Then it saw we were
looking at it and turned its head towards us. We know
it saw us because it gave us a little wave. It only had
three fingers on its hand. It was a wave but it had one
finger raised." Number 1 lifted his hand to
demonstrate the rude gesture. Not wanting to do this
in the direction of the Officer-in-Charge he gestured
in the direction of his own reflection in the mirror
At this point one of the two large MPs appeared to be
choking and they were both ordered outside.
"Then what?" said the Officer-in-Charge.
"There isn't much more," said Number 1. "That's
when the security guys grabbed us and put us in
detention until our own people came to collect us and
brought us back here."
"Right," said the Officer-in-Charge." We'll get you
into separate rooms. I want you to write down
everything you remember. I mean everything and I
want a sketch of the alien and a list of everything in
that room. I want everyone back in here at 14.00
The Officer-in Charge stood up so they all stood up.
Salutes were exchanged crisply and the room soon
* * *
The folks behind the two-way mirror relaxed. They
were joined by Number 3 who was really one of
"Weren't the young volunteers sweet?" said a lady in
a white coat.
"My volunteers aren't sweet madam," said a man in a
grey suit grinning at Number 3. "Anyway it's not
So they all compared notes on how the Officer-in-
Charge had reacted and agreed there were no
problems so far. Would he get the job at Area 51? Too
soon to tell, he hadn't even thought of applying for it
"Pity we have to tell them it was all just an exercise
and a pity we couldn't use the real Area 51," said the
lady in the white coat.
"Or the real alien," someone said.
A Wave from a Stranger was
published as the Winner in the
Writers Billboard Short Fiction
Competition, December 2007.