Unidentified: A Science-Fiction Thriller

Well, get my characters out of them to be more precise.

But this was pretty much the same thing. All writers had to put themselves into the heads of their characters when they wrote. I preferred my protagonists to outsmart their enemies rather than out-muscle them, even though most were special forces operatives who were as far above average when it came to physical combat as Albert Einstein was above average at physics.

People watch heist movies and become engrossed by the intricacies of the plan, the endlessly creative solutions required to pull off the spectacular robbery. If done right, most viewers find themselves marveling at the genius of the heist’s masterminds, the suave international men and women of mystery with the savvy to do what world-leading security firms insist can’t be done.

Few viewers consider that there is no seasoned team of master criminals to plan out every meticulous step. Only a single dweeby writer in his pajamas who is responsible for every miraculous solution, every twist and turn, every surprise, and every betrayal.

The actors might have made the planning look easy, but for the poor writer it was often grueling.

How many times had I painted my characters into a corner, chained them within an impenetrable fortress, surrounded by machine-gun-wielding psychopaths, leaving myself the headache-inducing task of figuring out a believable way for them to escape.

I quickly realized that the more I could learn about combat, black budgets, secret intelligence agencies, special forces training, and weapons of all kinds—both current and futuristic—the better I’d be able to come up with these solutions.

So I had taken martial arts classes, and had learned about weapons. I had practiced at gun ranges and picked the brains of special forces commandos. All as part of the research I did for my books.

I had then spent endless hours figuring out how one might use various combinations of weaponry and trickery to extricate oneself from life-and-death circumstances.

None of this magically imbued me with commando skills, or made me a hero, by any means. Even so, I had to believe these efforts made me slightly more formidable than your average accountant.

So I decided to go about getting to the bottom of UFOs as if I were a hero in one of my own novels. If I were one of my own civilian heroes, I wouldn’t be stupid or reckless. Or overconfident. I would recognize my limitations and hire a mercenary for protection. Someone who really did have the requisite training and skills.

And I’d hire this mercenary from an organization called a PMC, short for Private Military Contractor. I had cited these groups in a large number of novels. For good reason. They had grown like mushrooms in manure over many decades, and now fielded more soldiers in war zones than many governments.

Armies had gone private, and characters in a variety of my novels had hired mercs from these organizations by the score, often using the unethical variety who, for the right price, would carry out any order short of genocide.

These PMCs employed some of the most impressive commandos the world had ever seen, who had joined these outfits to cash in on their skills. I had spent an entire day touring a top PMC in my home town of San Diego two years earlier—Schoenfeld-Allen Protection Services, which had the unfortunate acronym of SAPS—and interviewing some of their personnel. The CEO, an ex-colonel named Brad Schoenfeld, had luckily read some of my work, and had graciously agreed to allow me full access.

It was an impressive outfit, considered one of the top three such firms in the country, and I could well have been at a NATO event given how many nationalities were represented by the personnel the firm employed.

While I was there Colonel Schoenfeld had one of his best mercenaries, Major Tessa Barrett, show me around and take me to lunch, thinking she would make a good impression.

And she had. A great impression, in fact. Having nothing to do with her gender or appearance. She was knowledgeable and friendly. She was a fan of my work, which was always fun for me. And Brad Schoenfeld told me that her proven skills when it came to combat, strategy, and tactics were off the charts.

Major Barrett insisted I call her Tessa, and she had answered endless questions about her training and her former stint with the elite Delta Force unit.

For almost four decades now, a number of special forces units had added women to their ranks. Not because a progressive culture had demanded it, but because it made good military sense.

Delta Force operators were trained to blend into any environment, including urban settings. But five athletic, military-aged males hanging out at the local soda shop to recon a group of high-value targets in the Balkans wasn’t exactly stealthy, no matter how much their clothing might have blended in. Less suspicious to have mixed-gender groups, or a male and female operative posing as a romantic couple.

Most of the male ex-commandos SAPS employed were stronger and faster than Major Tessa Barrett, but Schoenfeld made it clear who he’d rather have by his side when the chips were down. She also had the advantage of routinely being underestimated, making her especially valuable on stealth, plain-clothes missions requiring keen improvisational skills and deception.

If she pretended to be a scared, helpless woman, most men would fall all over themselves to help her, lowering their guard to non-existent levels. Even those who managed to keep their guard up could never imagine how skilled and lethal she truly was.

Yet I found Tessa to have a dazzling, friendly, unassuming personality, one I found surprising given her lethal skill set.

We hit it off immediately. So well, in fact, that we met for dinner a handful of times over many months. The chemistry between us was undeniable, having nothing to do with anything physical. She was well out of my league in the looks department, of course. But I was pretty sure she didn’t find me repulsive at least.

Douglas E. Richards's books