Anthony had woken up in a holding cell, not that he was that surprised after a few days of recuperation. The few details he’d gotten from the man who brought his food offered a few extra insights. The unoccupied Alien ship crashed into a Bhutan National Park. But the man wouldn’t clarify how the United States found out about a crash in a country across the world. Bland food and lack of entertainment kept Anthony returning to the small booklet on the nightstand. He still couldn’t read the language, but he’d stared at the pages for most of his waking hours.
A knock at the door stirred him from his latest session of gazing. Someone in a full biohazard suit like the ones he’d seen in movies entered and spoke every word as if it were a warning.
“Your father is here. This is your version of a phone call. Remember that you’ve signed an NDA. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand.”
Anthony drug out the words, and smiled when the other person’s eyes rolled. The door closed and silence followed. The one-way mirror became translucent for the first time. Men and women who wore rows of ribbons on their chest and general ranks on their shoulders surrounded one thin man, wrinkled from the sun, but still stronger than any in the room.
“Dad, I’m sorry.”
The powerful man’s lips trembled, and Anthony’s muscles tensed. One general pointed toward something Anthony couldn’t see. His father leaned that way and his father’s voice filled the room.
“That’s alright son. Your damned lists didn’t put you in here; these fools did.”
Someone cleared their throat.
“They want me to ask you how you survived.”
Anthony considered telling his father a lie about how his lists prepared him for everything he faced on the alien spaceship. While his father showed obvious frustration at the situation, a spark of hope glimmered in his old man’s eyes.
“By using what I had, and not what I wanted.”
Tears welled in his father’s wrinkled eyes.
“Well, you done made a liar out of me. I’ve never lied to a general in my life. Maybe a Petty Officer or two. You done good, son.”
Anthony’s own tears fell down his cheeks as he smiled. The generals promised they’d return Anthony to his father once they knew he remained clear of contaminants and answered their questions. They didn’t resume their questions that day. It almost felt like they wanted him to slip up. The lights shut off, and Anthony drifted to sleep.
A golden glow pierced Anthony’s sleep. Anthony sat up to find a figure in smooth black armor in front of a floating black and gold circle. The figure held the booklet toward Anthony.
“How does a Trobidan CD Handbook fall into the hands of an Earth 24.1 human?”
The woman’s voice startled Anthony because it didn’t seem to carry any anger. Why would they be angry? Anthony shrugged. Oh, great first interaction with a super suit alien. So he shrugged again. The figure tucked the book into a small leg compartment in their suit. Anthony wanted to say, no stop, that’s my strange alien book, but he couldn’t speak.
“Take my old one. I have some extra notes.”
The booklet the woman tossed Anthony bled with marker tabs and reeked of sweat. The super suit alien woman turned toward the glowing circle, but hesitated.
“Don’t let the military know you changed that one. Pull the red tab, it will make it look like your old copy. And if the Compound Division comes around, tell them you exchanged gifts with the Berus. That should give you some more fun.”
With that, the woman shattered into a million gold and black pieces before being sucked into the glowing circle. Anthony gaped, but pulled on the red tag. The words in English changed back to the old alien script. The Trobidan language. Anthony didn’t need a list to know he wouldn’t let Elida become another human frozen in line for the Trobidan’s knowledge. When Anthony looked up once more, the circle was gone.
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