The two men guided me into a black car that took us somewhere pretty far. For a moment I was worried I had been tricked, but in the end, we reached the airplane standing in the middle of the darkness. The jet was much smaller than the public planes that could be seen in the distance, but it still looked like it could contain a fair amount of people. The men allowed me to keep my luggage with me as they guided me into the vehicle. The interior looked more like a luxurious living room than a plane, with comfy-looking couches, tables, a bunch of holo-PCs, a large screen TV and even a bookshelf and refrigerator with drinks. Agent Riley came up from the lower deck and smiled at me.
“We will stop at two more places before we reach Washington,” he said to me in a pleasant tone. “We have to pick up some more people like you.”
I nodded and Riley went back downstairs. The plane took flight almost immediately afterwards. I couldn’t tell what direction we were going. I soon became very sleepy and dozed off until we landed for the first time. There were no crazy dreams this time.
“Thanks,” I heard a voice in the distance say in English. His accent was some kind of British, but I was never a specialist on that. I looked at the general direction of the voice and noticed a man come on to the upper deck. He was a slightly chubby man in his forties. His golden hair was pretty thin, but arranged in quite a neat manner. He smiled at me as he came in and waved at me with his hand. I noticed a wedding ring. “Hello!”
“Hi,” I said to him in a meek voice. Although I knew I was fluent and everyone always praised me for it, I was never really comfortable speaking English. The man sat down on the couch opposite of me. He was smiling a broad smile. He looked very pleasant, but there was something fake about that smile. I could tell his intentions were good, but his eyes betrayed him. Those big, blue eyes were bloodshot and swollen. I didn’t want to ask. He extended a hand to me.
“I’m James, by the way. James Boone. But I guess you can call me Jamie. Hardly anyone calls me that nowadays, but I quite like it, personally.”
I shook his hand and tried for a smile of my own. “My name is Atsuko Tachibana. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise! So…” his voice suddenly became a bit quieter. He lowered his gaze, glanced about the room, and said to me in almost a whisper. “I take it we had the same dream, then? You saw it? The eye and fire, I mean?”
The plane took off. We were alone in the room, but I didn’t think there was anything to hide here. The people who brought us here seemed to be aware of the situation. Still, my reply came out as a whisper as well. “Yes. I saw the twelve of us, the eye, a red light, and I heard a voice mention the contact.”
“And then you knew you had to fly?”
“Yes.” I nodded.
“Fu- Oh, sorry. What do you think all this means?”
“Well, there’s one thing we can be sure of,” I told him as I pointed out the window. The lights lingered there, still dotting the sky during the late afternoon. “We’re not alone.”
“Yeah… Bloody hell, one moment I’m minding my own business, living my life as usual, working hard, spending time with my family, and now look. Aliens. And what the hell even are they?”
“We don’t know that. Not yet, at least. I think the most exciting thing about this is that we will probably get to find out.”
“Yeah. Not sure if that isn’t scarier, though.”
I had the feeling we had nothing to be afraid of, and yet, the very fact that we are coming in touch with a completely alien culture was, in a way, terrifying. The endlessness of space that was largely unknown to us and had nothing to do with any of our daily lives could soon become unraveled, and nothing would be the same again. Is this what they mean by saying that ignorance is bliss?
For the rest of that part of the flight, Jamie and I changed the topic. I found out he’d also left a spouse at home in all this. I found that I quite liked his company and that we had a lot in common. Later he pulled out an old-fashioned deck of cards. I was delighted. It had been so long since I’d played actual cards. We played war for at least an hour, right up until the point that we landed.
That’s when the other man entered. He was very tall, quite a bit taller than Jamie. They seemed to be around the same age, but this man seemed to be in much better shape. His sandy hair was overgrown and his bangs fell on the right side of his face, mostly obscuring that eye from view. The other one revealed itself to be very narrow, deeply set, and a particularly cold shade of gray. A heavy stubble covered his angular face. And though I could see his lips twisted into a very friendly grin, there was something off about him. His smile was fake, as his eyes betrayed him. But what he was hiding I could not tell. And that thought filled me with an eerie dread.