A lifetime of science fiction movies and television did nothing to prepare me for the Shalash shuttle. With no engine noise, no way to see outside the cabin, and no sensation of motion, I could have been sitting in a pink waiting room somewhere. The shuttle gave a quieter, smoother ride than I’d get sitting in my living room, and the big cushy seat was the first thing I’d seen wide enough to think of as human scale, but I guessed they’d have to hold a Shalash soldier in combat gear.
My feet still didn’t touch the floor and I wondered how long it would take to get used to that.
Combat gear. Once I had the thought, I couldn’t get rid of it. Out of nowhere, my mind showed me an invincible horde of Shalash marching through Kingston, such a likely place for invasion. I hadn’t seen any weapons or armour, but I pictured them out of any randomly selected SF epic: gleaming plastic that warded off anything humanity could throw at it, guns that could shoot around corners, laser rifles. Stupid, and it made my fingers clench the sides of the chair harder. Trust is hard sometimes, and I was about to trust the Shalash with everything that mattered to me.
I should have been excited. How could riding in an alien shuttle be anything other than an amazing dream come true? But too much fear mixed with the excitement, fear and worry.
The Shalash held out a dream in their skinny, long-fingered hands, but some of the things Earth might add to that dream dug a hole in my stomach. I pictured my family at the centre of a media circus, surrounded by the lunatic fringe and shadowy, half-imagined agencies beyond. Too much imagination, but it scared the hell out of me. The only way to prevent it had already passed by. I could have said no, gone home, and watched it all unfold on TV, knowing I could have been at the centre of things and regretting it for the rest of my life.
And how could I say no, especially after Sharon told me it was okay and meant it? The moment I spoke to Captain Razush, everything changed.
So I had to find a way to protect my family and not many options jumped out at me. Going to the government would mean pressure to get everything I could from the aliens, and that pressure would already be tremendous, from my own and other “friendly” governments. I didn’t like that, didn’t want it, so I had to find another way. My solution, however, involved more trust than I’d ever given to anyone before, and I had to cross a species boundary to do it with a species I’d only known about for a couple of hours.
The Shalash officer beside me, introduced as Commander Rizuk, stood suddenly. “We have landed.” Some part of the helmet hiding his entire head must have contained communication gear since the pilot, if there was a pilot, hadn’t announced anything I could hear. Or maybe the voice was the pilot. It seemed a little low.
“Umm, sure.” I swallowed a nervous joke about not having any proof we’d actually gone anywhere.
Rizuk took three long steps to the wall and touched a spot that didn’t look any different to me. I heard two chimes, the second higher than the first, and the hatch we’d come in slid open, half to either side. Uncurling my fingers from the armrests, I pushed myself up and followed him to the opening. Blue sky, waving grass, and our green minivan parked in the almost-shade of a tall maple.
I hopped to the ground, three feet apparently not worth a ramp when you’re seven or eight feet tall, and ran to the van. Sharon opened the door and I stepped into a rib-squeezing hug. She kissed me hard then leaned into my chest. “It’s real.”
“And then some.”
Kids’ voices spilled out of the back seat, a chorus of, “Daddy!” Martin leaned forward. “That was totally awesome!”
Still holding Sharon, I ducked down to make eye contact. “Dude, you haven’t seen anything yet. Everybody out of the van, we’re going for a ride.”
Trust is hard. But once you’re there, you might as well go all the way.
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