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Both Sides of the Story

by Thom Arrell

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts 1, 2, 3


We crossed the hallway and stepped into the elevator again. I gave the guy no opposition, so he would give me the freedom I needed. I knew that it would take quite a while for the elevator to reach its destination, and after about a minute I wrenched myself free and, even with my hands tied behind my back, I managed to push the ‘Stop’ button. The elevator stopped with a shock and we were both thrown to the floor.

I hit my head against the wall and was momentarily dazed but, to his credit, the goon was quite alert and on me in an instant. He wasn’t as heavy as he looked, but his knee pinned me down and with my hands still bound I was unable to move.

We lay there like that for a few seconds, until he was convinced that I posed no threat. Then he hoisted me back onto my feet and moved to press a button to make the elevator move again. At that moment I heard a sound that was halfway between a quick breath of air and the buzz of electric doors opening. The goon held on to me and nearly dragged me down when he fell. When he lay on the ground, I could see a red spot on the back of his neck.

As I tried to free my hands, a panel in the roof came loose, then another and Ron emerged, lowering himself into the elevator cabin.

“What the...” I exclaimed. “Ron, what are you... How did you get here?”

He held a finger to his lips and whispered, “I’m here to get you out. Now turn around. We need to be fast.” I turned and, as he held my arms away from my body, the metal of the handcuffs turned a bit warmer and I think I smelled human hair being singed. My arms were released and I turned to see him tucking something behind his belt.

“So what do we do now?” I wondered, still confused. “You’re never going to get me from a high-security FBI building. Especially not because we are who knows how many stories underground.”

He didn’t answer me but took out a small metal device and stuck it to my temple, where I felt it dig into my skin with tiny claws. There was a bit of pain, and when I touched my head, I found a drop of blood, but no more than that.

Only then did I notice that Ron had a similar device attached to the side of his head. He looked right past me, as if he was speaking to someone else and said, “Get us out of here.” It took a few seconds, but then the world turned black and I felt myself fall as I...

The next thing I remember was seeing the roof of a car above me. “He made it,” I heard Peter say, and then Ron’s voice added, “I told you his brain would be strong enough to handle it.”

I sat upright and found that I was lying in the back of an SUV. Peter was behind the wheel and Ron was in the passenger’s seat. Peter kept his eyes on the road, but Ron was looking at me with a bit of concern but a big smile on his face. “Thanks for getting me out, guys,” I muttered, “Where are we going now?”

“Somewhere safe,” Ron replied cryptically. “You’ll see.”

He turned around again, and we drove for what I estimate was half an hour. We came through suburbs that I did not recognize and finally stopped at a shabby apartment building. It looked fairly clean, but there was a pile of garbage bags next to the door and several balconies were filled with crates of beer. It reminded me of my student days.

Peter parked the car next to the garbage bags. We got out. Ron took out his keys and opened the door for us. We went inside and it was almost déjà vu: Loud music was coming from open doors, there was a smell of burned food and stale beer and the people that we met in the stairway were dressed like modern-day hippies.

On the third floor, Peter took out another set of keys, unlocked a door and then stepped aside, urging me to enter first. I was a little suspicious. I wish they had told me where we were going. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life running from the FBI. But I had been working with Ron and Peter for years and I trusted them.

I opened the door and was immediately enveloped in a very bright light, as if I was looking directly into the sun. I threw my right arm, which was still wearing part of the broken handcuffs, in front of my eyes and took a step forward.

* * *

The next time I opened my eyes, I was sitting in a chair on what seemed to be an open plain. I assumed that was just an illusion, but I could not see any cracks that betrayed the walls or the ceiling. Mist was swirling at my feet, and I could not see the ground either. A voice that seemed to come from the sky said: “Recruit Hecket, you acted recklessly by allowing the humans to get hold of advanced technology. Still, we want to thank you for your service. We realize that your mission was a difficult one.” The voice seemed to come from everywhere at once, which confused me.

I replied something like “Hrrngh” and the voice said: “Tell us what happened.”

I was at a loss what to say, so I just asked one of the many questions in my mind. “Where am I?” I felt like I was in a very bad science fiction movie.

“Have you not been debriefed?” the voice said.

“Debriefed? What the hell are you talking... WHERE AM I?” I started losing my patience. I was kind of done with being interrogated.

I tried to stand up and to my great surprise I wasn’t restrained. But once I stood, it seemed a futile gesture. All I could see was an endless plain. Where was I going to run?

“Recruit, sit down,” the voice tried to console me. “It is understandable that you are confused.”

I sat down again and tried to look defiant, but without someone there to look at, it was difficult to keep up. “You were sent on an assignment to determine the extent of the humans’ technological capacity. Specifically, you were to determine if they were capable of space exploration.”

“What do you mean ‘humans’?” I demanded.

“To make the experience as real as possible,” the voice continued without answering my question, “a large part of your memory was temporarily blocked, so you would not be able to use our own technology.”

“You screwed with my brain?” was all I could say.

“You, yourself, suggested this,” the voice said apologetically. “Anyway, it seems you have succeeded. We have recovered the ship that you managed to crash from the hangars of the organization that the humans call ‘FBI’. In your opinion, is it possible for humans to develop their own spaceship program in the coming decades?”

This must have been another trick of the FBI. They must have recaptured me and were now trying a different angle at interrogating me. Perhaps they were behind my so-called ‘escape’. Maybe Ron and Peter were with the FBI. You hear that sometimes, that the FBI does undercover operations where they pose as criminals just to catch the bad guys.

I probed my mind and body for any hallucinatory drugs, but I didn’t feel anything out of the ordinary. It must have taken them quite some effort to create this effect. I did not know how to respond. They really expected me to fall for this? What kind of information did they want? Confirmation that I was an alien? Well, they weren’t going to get it from me.

“Look, I don’t know who you think I am. I am human. I have childhood memories. I have scars. I bleed red blood when you stab me. I have done nothing wrong,” I added in case they were indeed the FBI. “Always paid my taxes and my speeding tickets.”

“Those memories were implanted as part of your assignment,” the voice said. “A design team carefully constructed those memories, to create a watertight background story. We could not risk you giving up any information if the humans ever caught you. Once this investigation is over, your mind will be uploaded to your own body.”

They took the story a bit too far, in my opinion. But they sure had thought it through. As before, I decided that the best way to approach this was just to be honest.

“I think we humans have the necessary knowledge to build a ship. I tried. I mean, we did it, right? But there are probably too few people on the planet that understand the theory to do it on a large scale. And I could not have done it without Ron and Peter providing me with the necessary materials. They are your agents, aren’t they?”

There. Let them go question those guys instead of me. As I said it, I realized I couldn’t really remember how I met them. I didn’t even know their last names. Why did I ever trust them?

“Then I must ask you, recruit, do you officially advise to ignore this world in our search for extraterrestrial intelligence for now and perhaps try again in a few centuries?”

“Yes,” I said sarcastically. “Better to leave these people be for a while.” The voice didn’t seem to pick up on my tone.

“Very well, consider your assignment terminated. Thank you for your service. You will be picked up shortly to be uploaded again.”

There was a sound like something disconnecting and the voice seemed to be gone. I waited for a while but nothing happened. The sudden silence made me wonder how much of what the voice had said was real. Were there aliens? It seemed impossible, but the idea that this was all a trick by the FBI was also too far-fetched.

And what I had done wasn’t possible for any human being. I had known that while I was building the spaceship, of course, but I had never given it much thought. The fact that Ron and Peter had never thought my requests to be out of the ordinary had given me a false sense of security. But if this was all an FBI scam, then why did they ask all those questions? Who else could have pulled this off? Russian mobsters? Bill Gates?

And what would happen now? As I had that thought, the lights slowly dimmed, as if someone had turned on the night. What... would... happen... now?

* * *

When I regained consciousness, I was lying at the edge of a large field of grass. I know I was in the countryside, because I smelled straw and horse manure. It was night, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Thousands of stars were twinkling at me.

Suddenly there was a circle of lights. I had never seen it from below, but I recognized the spaceship. The lights were just a joke. It was Ron’s idea, from when we had watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind when we were k... Suddenly my memory stuttered.

I remembered Close Encounters clearly. There was a guy playing keyboards to a spaceship, and it responded. I remembered the circle of lights on the rim of the spaceship. But that was it. I didn’t remember the actors. I didn’t recall the melody that the guy with the keyboard played. In my mind the movie was a concept.

I did remember one thing: scratching a wound on my arm as I watched the movie. My skin was green. That could not have happened. I could not have seen a human movie when I was young. We only discovered Earth a hundred years ago, and I was a young adult at that time.

Suddenly everything came back to me. The scents, images of my mothers, recollections of when I was about to have my memory suppressed and a new memory implanted. And, while memories rushed into my mind, I saw the spaceship in the distance quickly move away.

Copyright © 2016 by Thom Arrell

Proceed to Challenge 667...

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