Unidentified: A Science-Fiction Thriller

Then wait and see if anyone tried to stop me. I hadn’t given out my address, but getting this would be child’s play for anyone who was worth attracting.

It was a Hail Mary pass for sure. A dangerous one. I mean, what idiot purposely kicks a hornets’ nest? Worse, a nest possibly filled with government, military, or even extraterrestrial personnel, who all might be wielding godlike technology.

This was the very reason Tessa didn’t want to loiter here. It was hard to imagine a hostile party reacting to my appearance within minutes, but there was much about the UFO situation that was hard to imagine, and she refused to take even the slightest risk if she could help it.

I had a lot of faith in Tessa Barrett. If anyone could keep me alive, she was the one.

But I couldn’t help shake the feeling that I was a kid playing with dynamite. And I couldn’t help but wonder if I had just signed my own death warrant.



My small rental home was nestled within a gorgeous, densely wooded enclave ten miles from the San Diego coastline that was whimsically named Elfin Forest, a name that was hard not to love. Every time I turned onto Elfin Forest Road, I couldn’t help but smile, as I expected to see a family of hobbits at any moment amongst the spectacular flowers, trees, and vegetation.

And yes, even though I’m not a fantasy guy, I’m fully aware that hobbits aren’t elves. Still, somehow the name made me think of Frodo rather than Legolas.

I had rented the home recently, surrounded by nothing but trees for fifteen acres, just after I had decided to try to catch a school of sharks by baiting a hook with my own bloody carcass.

While it wasn’t spelled out in my homeowners-association bylaws, I had to believe that setting your home up to be the center of a war zone—possibly an interstellar war zone—would be frowned upon.

They say that fences make good neighbors. But I’ve come to believe that keeping your neighbors from becoming collateral damage in a deadly battle was important, too.

So I rented an isolated home, which on this day was seriously decked out with surveillance equipment and weaponry. Tessa had spared no expense or precaution. She didn’t have access to alien tech, but somehow she had access to human tech so advanced it would make a black-ops commando team green with envy. And she had handpicked eight of her colleagues at SAPS who had been deployed as optimally as was humanly possible.

It only took six hours before Tessa’s sensors picked up a rustle in our trap. She had insisted on leading the operation on site, but I had insisted with equal fervor that she quarterback the op from a distance. After our most contentious fight ever, I threatened to fire her if she didn’t relent, and hire someone who would do as I asked. The irony is that if I had hired anyone else, I would have been willing to let them take this additional risk.

So Tessa was with me in an empty warehouse we had rented in an industrialized part of San Marcos, a small district fairly isolated and rundown, fifteen minutes away from where I had rented a home. The inside of the warehouse was about the size of two basketball courts laid side by side. Exquisitely fine sensors, not even available the year before, had just picked up the most sophisticated drone Tessa had ever seen, a nearly perfect replica of a honey bee, as it flittered about the yard and entered the house through an AC vent.

While the sensors continued to track it through the vents, we didn’t pick up the video feed again until it emerged inside the family room. I stared at the exquisitely crafted fake insect with both amazement and horror. Without a tip-off from the sensors and a magnified image, it would have easily fooled us. The idea of a world in which swarms of drones like these could operate as self-guided bullets that couldn’t be stopped was highly troubling.

As was the fact that my plan seemed to be working. I couldn’t go to the mountain, but my appearance on the podcast was apparently bringing the mountain to me.

I swallowed hard. “That didn’t take long,” I said.

“I thought you’d be excited,” said Tessa. “This is what we wanted.”

“Yeah, be careful what you wish for,” I mumbled.

“Impressive toy,” said my companion, gesturing to the faux bee on the oversized monitor with her right hand. “But it doesn’t strike me as being impressive enough to be alien tech.”

“I agree.”

I stared at the bee as it flew around my temporary home and frowned. “But what if I didn’t have AC or any other means of ingress? It would be pretty useless.”

“I’m sure it has other tricks up its sleeve. Our military has something similar, although not as small and refined. I suspect it has a laser or a diamond saw attachment that can cut a tiny drone-sized hole in a window.”

“Well that’s comforting,” I said, making a face.

My eyes were glued to the monitor as the tiny drone thoroughly and soundlessly reconned my entire home, only to return to the bedroom to hover a few feet above where I appeared to be fast asleep.

To cage a tiger, you’d better offer up an irresistible steak. The steak in this case, my lifelike body double, was wrapped in sheets and blankets with its face buried deep inside a plush pillow.

Only the back of my fake head and black hair could be seen, not that Tessa hadn’t gone the extra mile. She had 3D printed a perfect likeness of everything above my neck, including fine hairs inside my nose, skin blemishes, and the works. Then she had rigged the model with silent motors that made my blanket-buried torso rise and fall, ever so slightly, emit a mixture of gases from a pressurized canister that would register as human exhalation, and even mimic the heat signature given off by a slightly overweight five-foot-eight former writer.

“Captain, are you and your team seeing this?” said Tessa beside me.

Douglas E. Richards's books