“That’s not all it is,” I told her. “I grabbed soundtracks from a few different science fiction movies—Star Wars, Alien, Star Trek, Iron Man—more than one from some series. Plus I downloaded TV show soundtracks too—Firefly is the obvious one, but a few other shows too. Plus, all my regular music.”
I felt like I could hear her eyebrow raise as she said, “So, SF movie soundtracks plus music that’s mostly appeared in Guitar Hero or Rockband, right?”
I thought about it and admitted, “That’s about right.”
“Did everyone bring music?”
Marcus and Cassie both said yes and Jaclyn said, “Good. It’s not that I don’t want to listen to what you have, but I don’t only want to listen to that, okay?”
“No problem. I think we could switch off between whose music gets played. This is a small spaceship, if we don’t do something like that, we’re going drive each other nuts. All we’ve got is the cabin, the bathroom, and the engine room.”
I turned to look back at her. Tall and darker skinned than Marcus, she wore a purple costume. As I turned, she was leaning forward, either toward me or toward the front.
“It’s bigger than my parents’ van when we drove to California. That was three days with both of my older brothers. It felt like we were on top of each other the entire time.” She shook her head.
I could imagine it. Her brothers were big guys and they had powers. They’d shown up for a couple group movie nights in the summer before my senior year.
“How are they?” Cassie leaned over the arm on her seat. “You said they’d moved to Atlanta, but I’m almost sure I saw one of them when I fought the fishmen in DC two years ago.”
Jaclyn shrugged. “Could be. They run around as quickly as I do. I’m sure at least one of them would show up if DC’s being invaded.”
They kept on talking as we closed in on the Xiniti space station. It looked like a gray ball floating in space, and also, yes, a little bit like the Death Star in Star Wars. The resemblances ended with the shape and color though. For one, the Xiniti station was considerably smaller. It wasn’t anywhere near the size of a small moon. For another, it didn’t have an indentation on the top for a planet destroying weapon—at least that I could see.
I’d been told that the Xiniti had orders to destroy humanity should they show any sign of causing galactic civilization problems. It stood to reason that they had the capacity for genocide somewhere on that thing.
Following instructions from the last time we’d been there, I aimed for the third group of landing bays from the bottom. One of the green force fields winked out as we approached, indicating which bay we should use.
By the time we’d reached the station, I’d already slowed the ship practically to zero, but once we were inside the bay, I used the gravitics to slow us down to nothing and land. The Xiniti station was just as strange on the inside as it had been the last time. Though the walls were silver-gray, they weren’t flat. Indentations suggested pillars or trees and bushes. The lights weren’t set to the level of brightness humans might expect. It felt like twilight.
The sensors on the outside of the ship reported that the atmosphere was Earth normal. If this all meant what it had last time, we could go out.
Lee confirmed it by unstrapping himself and standing up. “Get moving kids. It’s rude to keep them waiting.”
We all looked at each other and got out of our seats, following Lee out of the ship’s hatch.
A Xiniti stood outside the ship—only one. It looked like the classic pre-contact UFO hunter’s version of “the Grays,” aliens that appeared in stories offering enlightenment, or alternately, stuffing probes up people’s behinds.
It opened its mouth as we stepped out of the hatch, revealing a double row of teeth. I wondered what that revealed about its homeworld.
“Welcome,” it said, speaking each syllable as if saying the word for the first time. It held out its hand. Four small metal balls lay in its palm.
“Please take one ball,” it said, “and touch it to your temple.”
“Do it,” Lee said.
None of us had been wearing our masks, so it wasn’t hard. It held its hand out to each of us in turn. I picked up the ball, touched it to my temple and felt a brief pain, realizing that I couldn’t feel the ball anymore. Moving my hand in front of my face, I couldn’t see the ball at all. Touching the spot where I’d put it on the side of my head didn’t help either. There was no lump.
When I paid attention to the others again, Cassie, Marcus and Jaclyn were doing exactly what I had been. Well, almost. Jaclyn had fixed her attention on the Xiniti. “What just happened?”
“Successful implantation,” it said. “Your implant will identify you to other Xiniti and encourage communication. It will take a period to configure itself to your body and notify you when finished.”
Cassie stared at it, her Abominator gun hanging by a strap on her shoulder. “I can already communicate with Abominator tech. Did you know that?”
“Not unusual,” It said. “Interesting technique. We reverse engineered it years ago. Should be no problem.”
Flashing back to the death of the Xiniti we’d killed, I remembered its body appeared to be full of alien technology. What had we let into our heads?