Unidentified: A Science-Fiction Thriller

Unidentified: A Science-Fiction Thriller

Douglas E. Richards


Excerpt from a 60 Minutes broadcast (CBS News, May 16, 2021)

Bill Whitaker (voice-over) . . . [But that began to change after an incident off Southern California in 2004, which was documented by radar, by camera, and four naval aviators. We spoke to two of them: David Fravor, a graduate of the Top Gun naval flight school and commander of the F-18 squadron on the USS Nimitz; and flying at his wing, Lieutenant Alex Dietrich.

It was November 2004 and the USS Nimitz carrier strike group was training about a hundred miles southwest of San Diego. For a week, the advanced new radar on a nearby ship, the USS Princeton, had detected what operators called “multiple anomalous aerial vehicles,” over the horizon, descending eighty thousand feet in less than a second. Fravor and Dietrich, each with a weapons systems officer in the backseat, were diverted to investigate. They found an area of roiling whitewater the size of a 737 in an otherwise calm, blue sea.]

Dave Fravor: “. . . and we saw this little white Tic Tac-looking object. And it’s just kind of moving above the whitewater area.”

Voice-over: [As Deitrich circled above—Fravor went in for a closer look.]

Dave Fravor: “The Tic Tac . . . just turns abruptly. And starts mirroring me. So as I’m coming down, it starts coming up.”

Bill Whitaker: “So it’s mimicking your moves?”

Dave Fravor: “Yeah, it was aware we were there . . . I want to see how close I can get . . . and when it gets right in front of me, it just disappears.”

Bill Whitaker: “Disappears?”

Dave Fravor: “Disappears. Like, gone.”

Bill Whitaker: “Did your back-seaters see this too?”

Dave Fravor: “Oh yeah. There were four of us in the airplanes literally watching this thing for roughly about five minutes.”

Voice-over: [Seconds later the Princeton reacquired the target. Sixty miles away.]


I sank into my luxurious black office chair in San Diego, in front of an oversized computer monitor, and adjusted the camera angle until I liked what I saw on the screen. Not too bad, I thought, as I considered my own face staring back at me.

I had been fairly fortunate in the genetic lottery department, having been given wavy black hair that was in no danger of leaving my head, straight teeth, courtesy of years of braces, a symmetric face, and a wrestler’s build, although at the moment I was at least ten pounds over what should have been my proper weight class. And the camera supposedly added another ten.

Why hadn’t inventors come up with cameras that would subtract ten pounds? Now that would be a huge hit.

On the negative side of the genetic lottery, I had terrible seasonal allergies, learned at lightning speed but forgot most of it just as quickly, and was only five eight, short for a man.

I looked down at my own lap and smiled. I was wearing running shorts, the sort of comfortable attire almost expected nowadays for teleconferences and podcasts. As a bonus, since the camera showed nothing below my navel, I could well have been six-foot-two for all anyone on the other side of my monitor would know.

Behind me, at the perfect height for the camera to capture, were three long shelves filled with eighteen science-fiction thrillers I had written, along with many of these translated into multiple other languages, each on small stands to display their covers.

These had been moved here just a few weeks before by a full-service moving company, along with the rest of the contents of my office, helping me to settle into a second home I had just started renting. All eighteen volumes were thrillers set in the near future, and all of them explored epic advances in science and technology and the mind-blowing implications of these advances. And each contained backbreaking amounts of research on my part.

An obnoxious shrine to my work, no doubt, but I felt that I had earned it through blood, sweat, and tears. I had been a full-time author for twelve of my thirty-eight years, and I wasn’t a natural. For me it was often brutally hard work, especially the plotting and research. And even the writing came more easily to most than it did to me. I had scores of author friends who could write novel after novel as effortlessly as a politician could lie, never issuing primal screams at the top of their lungs, or tearing out their hair, or barely restraining themselves from throwing their monitors through windows.

I envied them their bliss.

I cleared my throat, preparing to utter my first words to countless streaming viewers, and tried to forget how disgusted I was with myself for lying to the host of the show, getting booked by promising to deliver the ultimate “what are UFOs really about?” reveal. Disgusted that I’d be addressing the entire audience, enough people to fill a hundred football stadiums, under false pretenses, blithely using them all for my own ends, utterly obsessed with achieving my goal.

Still, I insisted to myself, desperate to salve my tortured conscience, I did plan to deliver a comprehensive overview of the state of UFOs, along with information never before disclosed. This didn’t entirely justify my actions, but it did make me feel a little better.

I tensed as the countdown on the lower left corner of my monitor reached three seconds. Then two. Then one.

Pyrotechnics exploded onto my screen, the standard opening for the Mark Russell Podcast, consisting of futuristic music and dozens of images, each flashing across the screen for fractions of a second. Images of computers, DNA molecules, supercolliders, star fields, spacecraft, drones, holograms, and anything else that connoted science, technology, and futurism.

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