That day, I was outside with my mom admiring the flowers in her garden when I spotted it, or them actually. Two ships in the sky just under the cottony clouds. The strange ships were next to each other and seemed to be separate and yet joinable, like modules. They were so low I could see details, markings on the hull. I thought I should go get my brother and show him. He’d appreciate the awesomeness of the sight far more than my mother. When I pointed up at the sky, she merely shaded her eyes and looked up, acknowledged with a half-hearted mumble, and went back to her watering. But I knew it would happen. By the time I ran into the house and got him outside, the ships were gone. I don’t know why I had made such a big deal about it. He went inside right before the next sight in the sky happened. I kept watching as the clouds that had been above the strange ships condensed and spread and contracted until they made a single shape, a five-pointed star.
I sighed as I went inside. It was just another lovely day spent with my family. I ate good food. I shared jokes with my brother, arranged some white daisies and fuchsia fushsias in a vase with my mother, and discussed some article about emerging materials technology with my father. The sun cast bars of warm light through the living room window into a bright, fresh room. And by the end of the day, I had forgotten what I’d seen.
I hadn’t even looked up the news to see if anyone had reported the sighting. Few bothered to report stories on those ships anymore, not after the first few dozen sightings. At least not on the nightly news. Whoever they were had not attacked or said hello or landed or done anything other than appear in and disappear from the sky for months now. And I would have thought that would seem an ominous sign to most, and it was to some, those who believed the ships were taking measurements and making observations in advance of an invasion. Space scientists like cosmologists and astronomers said that the cloud formations the ships left behind were messages. Shapes like the five-pointed star were repeated and might mean “star cloud” or “star cluster.” They thought that maybe the aliens were trying to tell us where they come from, starting with the general area of a star cluster. But if the cloud shapes were a message or an address, no one had yet succeeded in deciphering it.
The disparate governments of the world all told their citizens the same thing, not to panic of course. That the ships were being monitored by officials. And sure enough, I’d heard the jets only a moment after the ships vanished and the star cloud formed that day. We were taking our own measurements, I suppose. There were unofficial reports of strange readings on scientific instruments in the vicinity of the ship sightings. Reports of exotic matter and disturbances in the electromagnetic field, and even the gravity field. Tabloids reported the usual things. Floating cows. Nightly visitations by large-eyed and spindly humanoids.
But most people had resumed going about their business, figuring it was either that or complete chaos. And that surprised everyone. What didn’t hurt us, we ignored. And the sight of the ships no longer inspired sinking feelings in the pits of stomachs, but just awe at what they were and curiosity about what they were doing.
There were more dirigibles in the air these days. Instead of the one familiar blimp that we used to see on occasion, making its daily rounds of the city, we now saw several each day. And even at night now. They were all outfitted and rigged with scientific instruments and cameras and—some say—weapons, just in case.
I now wonder if there will indeed be an invasion, but if it will be years, decades, perhaps even generations away. Perhaps it will take that long to gather enough information. Perhaps they are making changes to our planet, micro-terraforming, I’ve heard the speculators call it. Slowly changing the planet to suit their needs. Because only a slow change would ensure that all species didn’t just go extinct. That would throw the entire ecosystem out of balance. If that’s so, it would give us time, perhaps to prepare a defense. If so, it might mean that my generation and even the one after it, might continue life as usual, only with the occasional visitors in the sky.
I had become complacent too. And so, surprisingly, had my brother. I thought he would be the first to cry doom and gloom upon seeing one of those ships. But he had the same nonchalant attitude my mother had about the whole thing. Maybe they were in denial. Maybe that’s why they no longer cared to look up at the sky whenever there was a ship there. My father just figured, if we can’t do anything about it, why worry about it? And that was true enough.
So, yes, I’d forgotten all about the two ships I’d seen by the time I got home that night. I read a little and went to bed.
And that was the first night I had the dream.
I’d had vivid dreams before, and dreams where I knew I was dreaming, and recurring dreams. But this one was different from all of those. I knew it was a dream, but I noted sensations I don’t usually remember from dreams. The smell of the soil, the humidity in the air, the night sounds of crickets chirping and the leaves and twigs beneath my feet crunching, and some itch I had under my chin. I was standing in the middle of a forest, looking up at the sky. And I saw those ships that I had seen above my parents’ house.
And I thought to myself, You again.
Only this time, the ships slowly moved away as I watched and they started to descend. And I realized they would land and I would be able to see who was inside. So I ran through that forest, following the trajectory of the two module ships.
I remember feeling heat. A dry wind blew through the trees and I followed the wind to its source, a clearing. And in that clearing were the two ships. On the ground, on the earth. I felt the heat from their hulls, smelled a metallo-chemical smell in the air. I saw a glow coming from somewhere. I couldn’t tell where. There were openings in the hull, a ramp that led down to the forest floor. No one came dramatically emerging from the darkness of the ships. They were already on the ground.
My heart stopped and I stopped. They were walking toward me. Humanoid, but wearing suits. Or they looked like suits. Grey suits, maybe. It was difficult to tell in the dark. I was alone. But they were many. They kept their distance. I wondered if I was in my pajamas, but I didn’t dare look down at myself to check. I kept my eyes on them.
One of them broke away from the group and walked toward me. My heart re-started but its rhythm ran away from me. And my mind did likewise. Racing through thoughts as I watched the one’s approach.
Bipedal. Bilateral symmetry. Is that a helmet? Looks like the head of an ant or wasp. What are those characters on the suit? I don’t recognize them. The glove’s hand has five fingers.
I frowned. Five fingers. Is it human?
I was the first to speak. “Who are you?”
Their helmets concealed their lips, if they had any lips. So I don’t know if I heard the words through the air, or heard them in my mind, or felt them. But the one who stepped forward spoke.
I glanced at the others, at their ships, and I looked at the one who had spoken. Maybe it was a pronouncement. Something akin to “we are here.” Maybe it was their custom. Maybe it was their greeting. I thought for a moment, about how to respond.
I should ask, I thought. Before we get into the small talk. I should just ask if they’re here to invade us or take our planet.
When I woke, I was lying still on my right side, just as I had lain when I first lay down to rest the night before, only I was drenched in what I could only surmise was my own sweat. The room was bright. It was well past dawn on a Sunday morning. I couldn’t remember the rest of the dream. I couldn’t remember if there was any more to remember.
A nightly visitation by large-eyed and spindly humanoids.
I huffed out a mirthless laugh. I rolled out of bed, unsurprised by how tired I felt, how heavy my limbs were. A night of vivid dreams often left me feeling more tired upon waking than I’d been before I went to bed. Of course, it could have been real. Not the physical experience. I had most likely not gone out into the middle of a forest somewhere. But who was to say that the aliens or whoever they were had not linked directly into my mind?
But why me? I’m no one of importance. Not a political leader. Not a diplomat. Not a media mogul. Not a business magnate.
Perhaps that was the point. Perhaps it was their modus operandi to contact us as individuals.
Perhaps it was a dream. Part of me was hoping it was just a dream.
It was another sunny day. My first-floor unit is just by the pool and I heard kids laughing and splashing and playing Marco Polo. Someone had a radio on full blast, playing the top twenties. The cacophony of normal human life was comforting. When I went out in the evening to throw out the trash, the smell of charcoal from the barbecue lingered in the cool night air. I glanced up at the sky by reflex, a spike of sudden anxiety piercing my gut. But all I saw was a cloudless indigo night dotted with stars.
It was strange. I had been scared the first time I saw the ships. But I had gotten used to them. Like most people, I had gone on with my life.
That night, I had the same dream. The forest. The sky. The ships. Their descent. I had the same conversation with the strangers on the ships.
“Who are you?”
“We are descended.”
From us? Are they humans from the future?
When I woke, I sensed the echoes of the emotions I’d felt in my dream. Dread. Anxiety. I hadn’t sweated as much. But I still couldn’t remember if I asked them the vital question. I couldn’t remember if I had asked, “Are you friend or foe?”
And I was tired. So tired that I couldn’t focus at work. I took an early day, joking to my colleagues about alien dreams. One of them mentioned a sighting of three ships above her house that morning. Everyone started joking about how they no longer bothered taking pictures, or how they’ve taken to waving to the ships and talking to them as if they were new neighbors. They started discussing the latest news about updates from the authorities. Someone said a new stealth plane had been developed to spy on the strange ships. They were still chatting when I bid them goodbye and headed home.
When I was younger, I’d kept a journal and wrote almost daily. I’d needed the catharsis. I still kept a journal, but rarely wrote in it. I opened my journal when I got home, hoping that writing about my dream would remove it from my mind. It helped, a little. But I still felt nervous about going to sleep that night. Me, who loved to sleep.
And I had the dream again. This time, as I ran through the forest toward the descending ships, I told myself to remember.
When I woke, I remembered.
The first thing I did was grab my journal and my pen. I began writing everything down. Then I found a black felt tip marker somewhere, so I was drawing one of them. The representative. The descendant. That’s what I called them.
I did ask the question. “I don’t mean to be rude,” I’d said. “But….”
Yes, I asked. And they answered. As expected, they answered that they were not here to hurt us or conquer us. I had only their word on that. Or rather, a feeling. There were no words to answer that question. I remember being calm in the dream. I asked all the right and important questions. Who were they? Where did they come from? Were they from another planet? Another dimension? The future? Why did their ships keep appearing in the sky? Why didn’t they land and greet us in the waking world? The real world?
There was a storm brewing in the dream sky above us, I remember. And a single cloud transformed into the shape of a star as lightning lit the sky. And the thunder drowned out the answers to my questions, if there were any more answers.
I asked them if I could see what they looked like. They were wearing suits. There were panels on bands about their arms. And tools on the belts about their waists. I had a sense that they were trying, struggling to communicate.
“We are descended.” They were the only words I remembered.
And they pointed to the star cloud above us.
“Which star cluster do you come from?” I asked. Maybe when I woke, I could write it down and search for it or ask a scientist.
I didn’t understand why they couldn’t say more, unless they were intentionally avoiding my questions. Was it their way of spreading dread? Were they doing this to others so that we would be afraid and cowed by the time they really descended?
I challenged them. I had been angry. I stopped writing when I realized that I had been angry in my dream. They never asked my name. But I gave it. I threw it at them as if I were throwing down a dueling glove. I told them where I lived and that they should come and talk to me in the real world. That was stupid. I must have forgotten that I wasn’t in a dream.
I’m scared. And I don’t know what exactly I’m scared about. Everything. Even if they are benign. Even if they are here to help us, guide us, or just get to know us. Even so we are forever changed.
The ships were not enough. Seeing them for months just appearing but doing nothing to disrupt our lives, it made us complacent. It made me complacent. Ships in the sky, so what? But seeing the beings inside. Speaking with them. Yelling at them. It was a dream. I could still dismiss the whole experience by saying it was just a dream.
But I knew better.
I had the dream a few more times before people started noticing the change. Not every night either. Just a few more nights over the next week or so. And I wrote down as much as I could. But there was no more than the star cloud and the same proclamation. I asked for names, ranks, and serial numbers. I asked what their ships were called, what their people were called. I asked why they couldn’t answer me and if there was anything I could do to help them talk to me. In the last dream, I think I caught a word that might explain what happened next.
The agency that tracked all the strange ships noticed fewer and fewer sightings over the following weeks. A month after the last sighting, they reported that the ships seemed to be gone. And that they would monitor the skies to be sure.
I hadn’t told anyone about my dreams. It was tabloid fodder, after all. Nightly visitations by large-eyed and spindly humanoids.
I brought my journal with me when I made my first visit to my parents’ house after the official “skies all clear” announcement. I debated whether or not to tell my brother. I got there first and while I waited for him, I sat outside in my mom’s garden, flipping through my journal. I hadn’t re-read or reviewed everything I’d recorded. As I did, I was astonished to notice something I had not realized before.
The dread. The fear. The anxiety. They weren’t just my emotions. They had feared and dreaded as well. The descendants. In my dreams, I had felt what they felt. And maybe they, whoever they were, had decided it was not yet time. Or maybe they had needed our help and discovered that we were not yet ready or able to help them.
Most of my entries were all the unanswered questions I had asked the descendant who spoke so few words to me. Under them all, I penned a final entry.
“Will you return?”
I closed my journal and looked up at the patches of cloud that drifted lazily through the blue sky, herded along by the pleasant cooling breeze. There were shapes in the clouds, but I had to use my imagination to see them.
Copyright © 2014 by Nila L. Patel.