Chapter 1 — Night
«Target is acquired, Vortex-is-Swirling.»
«No mistakes this time, Star-Burning-Brightly.»
«Your concern is embarrassingly justified. I will recheck all readings with excruciating accuracy.»
Cletus looked up at the triple spotlights which had suddenly bathed his pickup truck in brilliant white light. He thought he could make out a dim saucer shape hovering in the sky, but looking directly into the beams hurt his eyes.
“Oh no!” he moaned. “I never meant nuthin! I never meant nuthin! Don’t do nuthin to me!”
He jammed his foot on the brakes, selected reverse, then rammed the accelerator pedal into the floor. The pickup shot off backwards, swerving wildly.
«The veracity of all readings has been ascertained. Target has been confirmed as high caste by infra red absorption, remote dna sampling and olufactory extrapolation.»
«Your diligence is noted Star-Burning-Brightly. Recommence acquisition with due alacrity.»
«I beg to grovel wildly in your presence Vortex-is-Swirling. While I have been absorbed in my classification duties the target has moved with unexpected directional alterations and is now out of range of the acquisitional facilities.»
«Defer your grovelling so that it inconveniences you greatly during your next mating period Star-Burning-Brightly. In the meantime I will take over piloting duties so that you may direct your feeble powers of concentration towards the acquisition.»
«I understand greatly your frustration, and will focus immediately...»
«Yes, your greatness.»
Cletus had not been wildly successful with girls thus far in his 25 years on earth. Most ladies preferred their men not to be several bricks short of a load. And below the waist, his physical measurements were unfortunately on a par with his intellect.
However, he had hit on a routine which did succeed in persuading impressionable young ladies from time to time in bars. His tales of alien abduction, torture and sexual humiliation grew with each retelling. With the right audience, he would manage to get the sympathy vote at least one time in five. For Cletus that was a big step up in success rates over any of his other approaches, and he had enjoyed many a quick knee trembler after his tales of sex rays and voracious triple breasted aliens.
“I never meant it. I’ll tell them all it was lies. I’ll tell them all.”
He was still moaning supplications when his truck, careening backwards from side to side, left the road, hit a tree and came to a dead halt.
There was silence for a few seconds, then the driver’s door opened and Cletus practically fell out onto the floor.
He groaned with pain, then started to crawl off away from the road.
«The target has left his personal transportation habitat. It appears the device has experienced one of the frequent failures of their collision avoidance mechanisms.»
«I laugh at their primitive technology Star-Burning-Brightly.»
«I follow your example and gyrate in an uncontrolled manner with extreme mirth. Hoot hoot.»
As the pain of impact started to lessen, Cletus managed to drag himself to his feet. The spotlights from the saucer were still focussed on the truck. He hobbled off into the forest where the trees could provide some cover.
«Hmm. It appears that while we were losing control of our bodies in a justified manner one of us has neglected to recalibrate the acquisition device.»
«I will recalibrate hastily so that we do not accidentally acquire unwanted volumes of grass and soil along with the target.»
«Not too hastily though Star-Burning-Brightly. The unmentioned though still humorous event of three hundred cycles ago springs to mind.»
«Not too hastily, agreed. I hoot with subdued mirth as I recall the tragic, yet comical incident. I will use more caution this time. I will ensure no body pieces are left behind.»
Cletus risked a quick glance behind him. The spotlights were moving towards him again.
“Nooo!” he moaned. He was practically sprinting now. As well as the aches and pains from the crash, his chest now burned with each breath he sucked in and lactic acid started to build in his limbs. He scrambled over logs and ducked under branches, trying to get as deep into the forest as possible. Unfortunately Cletus had not kept himself in the best of shape. After what seemed an age but in reality was less than a minute he sank to his knees, spent. He didn’t think it was possible to hurt so much just from running. He twisted his head to see if the spotlights were still following.
The fir tree beside him exploded spectacularly, throwing him sideways as a great sheet of flame erupted from the tree.
Cletus found reserves of energy he didn’t know existed, and was up and running again, beating glowing embers off his clothes as he did so.
«The target flails his limbs wildly to achieve remarkable speeds.»
«Yet snail-like in comparison to our technology Vortex-is-Swirling. Does he not realise he is trying to outrun a faster than light vehicle?»
«I believe he must do Star-Burning-Brightly because he is of the ruling caste and therefore imbued with superior intelligence. I believe he is trying to communicate with us in the humorous dialect known as irony. I will signal our applause in the usual manner. There!»
«Vortex-is-Swirling, this is not the usual way we signal our applause. Where are the swirling lights and visually appealing colours?»
«Ah yes Star-Burning-Brightly. I appear not to have reset the safeties after our recent battlefield training. It appears the lasers are still in combat mode and not in signalling mode.»
«Still, no harm done. Apart to that fir tree of course.»
«Time presses on Star-Burning-Brightly. Acquire on my mark. Three, two, one!»
The sprint had slowed to a respectable jog. It was as much as he could manage now. However fast he went and whichever way he twisted and turned the terrible spotlights kept him dead centre beam. At least they had stopped firing on him for the time being.
His legs started to windmill wildly and he realised they were no longer touching the ground. He was rising in the air, up towards the saucer.
“No, please no” he gasped.
«Is there a problem, Vortex-is-Swirling?»
«I do not recall either one of us preparing the welcoming area. We do not wish to insult our guest.»
«I will repair to the welcoming area and instigate the proper procedures.»
Cletus fell to the ground with a thump. He set off once again, but now he was moving at scarcely more than a hobble.
«The welcoming area is sterilized. The anal probes are ready for us to greet our guest with proper respect.»
«And the correct settings this time? Remember how long it took us to repair everything seventy-three cycles ago?»
«I did not realise the vibrations could be set to supersonic speeds. Please do not bring my attention again to my miserable ineptitude.»
«You will be cleaning the room manually if it happens again.»
«It will not oh Great One. Let us talk of other things. To speak of such uncleanliness distresses me.»
«I change the subject with great tactfulness. He will be highly impressed by our superior technology.»
«In that case, on my mark...wait!»
Cletus spotted a reed covered creek ahead. He could scarcely move any more. Dim memories of hide and seek games with his cousins surfaced. Perhaps there was one last chance to escape.
«What is it this time Vortex-is-Swirling?»
«How many times did you run the sterilization procedure?»
«Only once Your Greatness. He is only a human after all.»
«Fool! We must ensure he shown all respect. We do not wish the contact to fail due to unfortunate misunderstandings.»
«I apologise all seeing one.»
«I wave my tentacles at you in disgust Star-Burning-Brightly.»
«You do not have tentacles Vortex-is-Swirling. You removed them three morphings ago.»
«I was using the earth dialect know as sarcasm Star-Burning-Brightly. You should keep up to date with your background research.»
«Duly noted Vortex-is-Swirling. I wave my tentacles in disgust also.»
Cletus popped the hollow stem of the reed into his mouth and sunk below the surface of the creek.
«The target is washing himself to prepare to be received.»
«Are you sure Vortex-is-Swirling?»
«There can be no mistake. Look he is fully submerged.»
«But...the water is disgusting. It teems with bacteria and quantities of dissolved noxious substances.»
«It is true. The scanners all agree.»
«Does he not realise how he insults us?»
«It is inconceivabe he does not realise Star-Burning-Brightly. He is ruling class.»
«I cannot cope with the thought of the dirt. I vomit in distress.»
«I vomit upon seeing you vomit.»
«Now I vomit again.»
«We are wallowing in vomit. We must sterilise the control room immediately.»
Cletus felt his breath slowing. Nothing had happened for a while. Perhaps he was going to get away. He wondered how long he should stay under the water.
«That was awful. I have never been so insulted since my exam marks were read aloud to the entire academy.»
«It was terrible. I gasp at his effrontery. I waggle my genitals in his general direction to show my disapproval.»
«Mere waggling is not enough Star-Burning-Brightly. We must punish him for his insults.»
«His lack of respect for our ceremonies is overwhelming Vortex-is-Swirling. The punishment should be of the highest category.»
«The highest. And it should be public so that other humans fear and tremble at our power. We cannot suffer this disrespect.»
«Prepare the punishment beam!»
«Preparing the punishment beam!»
Cletus found himself rising in the air one more time. This time he was too tired to even groan with dismay. The lights intensified so that they hurt even with his eyes closed. His whole body began to tingle, and then itch. He could no longer move a muscle. He wanted to scratch himself everywhere, but his arms were frozen.
Without warning the light faded, the sensations ceased and his body mercifully stopped itching. He fell to the ground as the saucer vanished at incredible speed into the distance. He groaned once, the new aches and pains adding to the others, and then lost consciousness.