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Unidentified: A Science-Fiction Thriller
Author:Douglas E. Richards

Given how our culture had become obsessed with these subjects, Dr. Mark Russell had been at the right place at the right time, and had a following numbering in the millions. Russell frequently interviewed Nobel-prize-winning scientists and tech industry titans alike.

And today a science-fiction author who hadn’t written a single word in over seven months, but who had convinced the host that he had found the Holy Grail of UFO answers.

Well, UAP answers, if one wanted to keep up with the current vernacular.

When the government had finally decided to take the subject seriously they had changed Unidentified Flying Object to Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, or UAP, to avoid the negative stigma of the original term.

This was the name the cool kids in the government and military now used, but I didn’t like it. Too fancy. Besides, when you saw an alien craft in the sky you said, “look at that strange object.” You didn’t say, “look at that strange phenomena.”

If I had to use a term other than UFO, I preferred another new term, UAV, which stood for Unidentified Aerial Vehicle.

In my book, though, they should have changed Unidentified Flying Objects to Mysterious Otherworldly Flying Objects—or MOFOs. This name was more accurate after all. And I’d give my last dollar to hear TV reporters using the new acronym.

“A fighter pilot today reported having an encounter with an aggressive little MoFo just outside of Nellis Air Force Base. According to the pilot ‘That crazy MoFo was coming at me like a bat out of hell.’”

I took a deep breath as the podcast’s signature opening video concluded, to be replaced by a bearded man in his forties, wearing eyeglasses and beaming enthusiastically. “Welcome, everyone, to the Mark Russell Science, Technology, and Futurism podcast,” he said. “I’m Dr. Mark Russell, of course, and I have quite a show for you today.

“My special guest for this edition of the podcast is Jason Ramsey, a bestselling novelist, speaker, and futurist well known to many of you. Jason’s science-fiction thrillers are packed with accurate science and technology and tackle such topics as artificial superintelligence, nanotechnology, super-soldier enhancements, time travel, quantum mechanics, cosmology, and more.”

Dr. Russell raised his eyebrows suggestively. “And this is the episode that just might make the history books, folks. Jason asked me not to promote this beforehand, but he isn’t here in his capacity as a writer. In fact, he’s spent the past seven months investigating what’s really going on with the UAVs that are cluttering our skies, using primary and secondary sources both. Today, he plans to share his blockbuster findings for the first time with this program.

“Jason, welcome to the podcast.”

I took a deep breath and stared at the host’s image on my screen, trying to forget the millions of people hanging on my every word. There would be no take-backs. This was live, and I already planned to leave them all hanging, which was bad enough. But if I said something stupid, or tripped over my own feet, I was stuck with it forever.

“Thanks, Mark,” I said, trying not to swallow hard. “Thanks for having me.”

“Before we begin, Jason, why don’t you tell the audience a little about your background and how you came to be a full-time writer.”

“Sure,” I said, feeling awkward, and realizing that I probably should be smiling. “Science fiction was my first love,” I began. “And for a long time as a kid, my only love.”

I stopped there, not wanting to elaborate further. The truth was that I had been a voracious reader of hard science fiction since I could remember, vacuuming up countless pages of the genre like a blue whale inhaling krill. Not fantasy. Hard science fiction. Mind-blowing, breathtaking, hard science fiction.

When I walked the corridors of my grade school, or waited in line in the cafeteria for my ration of pizza and tater tots, I had my nose deep in a book, oblivious to the rest of the world. At that time, this behavior was considered odd, but in retrospect I was just ahead of my time. Who knew that just a few years later an entire generation would be unable to tear their eyes from their smartphones, and nearly everyone would become expert at walking and reading at the same time (except for the small percentage who became so engrossed by their screens they walked off of cliffs, allowing Darwinism to thin them from our ranks).

Basically, that was my childhood. While I excelled in baseball and racquet sports, and had one close friend, I had no interest in socializing. When I wasn’t at school or playing a sport, I was locked inside my tiny room reading science fiction.

I’d still be there today if not for puberty. Girls, whom I hadn’t really cared about previously, had suddenly become irresistibly appealing. So much so that they finally eclipsed science fiction in my imagination. I began to realize that if I didn’t change my trajectory, I would never meet any, let alone lose my virginity (an ambitious long-range goal for a boy who wouldn’t even kiss a girl until he was fourteen).

So at thirteen, I marched into the room of my older sister, Ashley, with whom I had never gotten along, and an epic friendship was born. In essence, I told her I wanted to find a way out of the pages of a book and the confines of my room, to eventually go out on a date with an actual girl, and asked for her help.

Ashley hated science fiction and thought I was the ultimate nerd—which I was if you didn’t count athletic ability—but she did have the social thing down pat and agreed to help me by giving me a social makeover and taking me to parties.

And it worked. Astonishingly, people liked me. Even female people.

Turned out I was harmless. A sweet, awkward kid. Kind of like a cute pet. Nice. Safe. Unsure of myself.

Which is how I remained, even now, at thirty-eight. Unsure.

Not outwardly, by any means, but deep down inside. Which explained the Mothra-sized butterflies I felt in my gut.

“Because of science fiction,” I continued, hoping my nerves weren’t showing, “I became fascinated by the mind-blowing absurdities of quantum physics. Ultimately, I entered a PhD program in this field at Stanford.”