Unidentified: A Science-Fiction Thriller

So, you know, I had that going for me.

Not that either of us found looks to be all that important. Both of us had been around enough to have learned otherwise.

Looks were nice in the beginning, but intelligence, stimulating conversation, empathy, loyalty, humility, and chemistry were the key for a relationship to go to the next level. To be honest, I had gone out with women almost as beautiful over the years and never asked them for a second date. In fact, I quickly came to realize what several of them used for birth control—their personalities.

At the time I was getting together with Tessa, both of us were in committed relationships, so we never acted on our feelings. Eventually, I had to stop having dinner with her, lest I say or do something that we’d both regret.

And that was that.

Until I contacted her six months ago, needing her exact skills, and her ability to appear harmless. And it turned out that, like me, she had been out of any serious relationships for almost a year.

As stand-up comedians will tell you—timing is everything.

So I purchased her services full time for a year from SAPS and my favorite CEO, as a personal bodyguard, for three hundred thousand dollars. To Schoenfeld’s credit, he discouraged her from taking the job, not aware of our dinners and personal chemistry. He expressed concerns that I was doing this for creepy reasons, and that if she took the bodyguard job she might need to be guarded from me.

While she found Brad Schoenfeld’s concerns to be sweet, she explained that we had forged a bond, that I had a real need, and besides, even if I were a creep, she knew twenty ways to kill me with her pinky finger.

Well, she didn’t say this last—that was my joke—but she did make it clear she could handle herself.

The rest is history. We tried to keep things strictly professional, but after a single month of fighting our growing attraction, we finally gave in.

It was a tale as old as time. Boy meets girl. Boy purchases girl to protect him. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy prays that girl won’t let him die horribly as he puts his UFO-questing nose where various parties don’t want it to be.

Once I laid out the case and my reasons for wanting to get to the truth, Tessa became almost as enthusiastic about my quest as I was. And we made good progress. We met with all the usual suspects, and many tried to help us the best they could. But it turned out that the sources who had been quoted so often, who had appeared on television and in the media, who we had thought to be at the very heart of the matter, didn’t have many more answers than they were disclosing publicly.

Even if they had told us something new, something huge, without verification we could never be sure of its veracity. Could we really trust any sources from the military or government? Not really. Not unless they provided unimpeachable evidence of what they claimed, gave us a joy ride in a UFO, or introduced us to an extraterrestrial.

There were theories that even those in the government or military who appeared to be rogue, who appeared to be leaking secrets, were actually doing this at the behest of their bosses—not against their bosses’ will.

Besides, politicians and intelligence agencies had brought lying and fake news to an art form, and morals and scruples had largely become non-existent. Most in positions of power in our current society, including most in the media, no longer thought twice about lying and misleading in any way that supported their agendas. The ends always justified the means.

And I’m disgusted to admit it, but in the end, Tessa and I acted the same way. I had become what I had railed against the most, behaving atrociously to achieve my own goals. It seemed the only way, and we did our best to mitigate our bad behavior. Still, we hated ourselves for doing it. Always will.

Not that we let that stop us.

To what am I referring? When we struck out, we started following people of interest. And Tessa bugged their homes and cars with high-tech wonders with capabilities beyond anything I had used in a novel. She also knew people who were able to hack phones and emails.

We did set up an AI to monitor these sources, listen in, and only alert us to data pertinent to our quest, but this didn’t exactly absolve us of our sins. I’m embarrassed to say that I wouldn’t write a hero who would stoop to these methods—yet I had done so myself.

Worse, while these actions did reveal new information, and new possible sources, we found ourselves no closer to grasping the big picture of what was truly going on than we had been at the beginning.

In fact, the more we learned, the more of a confusing mess it all seemed.

We had sold our souls to the devil with little to show for it.

But surely someone in the world had answers, even if this someone had green scales and a prehensile tail and hailed from a planet thousands of light years away.

And I know what you’re thinking. Don’t call me Shirley.

So I sat down and pondered what a hero from one of my novels might do at this point. And the answer became clear pretty quickly.

If you couldn’t find those who really knew what was going on, let them find you. Rattle their cages. Use yourself as bait. And I was in a perfect position to do so.

I wasn’t what you could really call famous, but I was well known enough in futurism circles to be able to reach a large audience. And I had established that I was serious and credible as a researcher. So all I had to do was get on a show like the one Mark Russell hosted, and convince the world that I knew everything, and would eagerly reveal it all in a short period of time.

Put a super-strong bluff out there, and let it be known that I’d be a sitting duck in my San Diego rental home for a few days, just in case the keepers of the beans were worried that I was about to spill them to millions.

Douglas E. Richards's books