Sergeant Gonzales jerked forward. What he saw made no sense. Another white dot appeared near the “MUDDY PK” marker and moved in the direction of the experimental. Report. Report as you’ve been trained to do, he thought. His still boyish voice squeaked out the warning. “Target! Unknown target!”
The vehicle’s onboard computer assigned the unknown target a designation, “UNK/7803.” The dot tracked steadily, with its altitude indicator showing a rapid descent.
The lieutenant scanned the display. “What the hell?”
This time, the static blasted through the headphones at high volume,and both men instinctively ripped them off.
Anxious to call in his report, the lieutenant carefully raised the headphones to his ears. The static dissipated, but a strange clicking now emanated from the earpiece. With no radio transmissions, he attempted to broadcast an update. “Uncorrelated observation inbound at angels seven, rapid descent, entering quadrant four.” He checked the screen. The experimental remained on the ground. “Can you hear anything, Sergeant?”
Preoccupied with the image on the display, the sergeant did not answer. The unknown target just performed an instantaneous ninety-degree turn and dropped to below two thousand feet.
“It’s coming this way,”Sergeant Gonzales said.
The lieutenant, despite the technical problem with the radio, kept sending the status reports. “Unknown now on course three-one-zero at sixteen hundred feet. Variable airspeed.”He turned to Gonzales and said, “Get with the driver and do a visual check.”
“Yes, sir.”Gonzales stepped out of his seat and slid open the driver cab’s access window. The driver leaned toward the radio console, checking different channels. “No time for that, Bresch; the radio’s down. Get your binoculars and get out.”
After grabbing his night-vision binoculars, Airman Bresch lifted the rifle from its dashboard mount and joined Sergeant Gonzales at the front of the vehicle.
“There’s an unknown target, southeast, about five miles,”Gonzales said.
Bresch searched the desert terrain for intruders.
“No,”Gonzales said, pointing at the sky, “an unknown, airborne target.”
“Under two thousand.”
“Civilian or military?”
Gonzales’seyes darted back and forth, trying to find the object. He knew there must be a reasonable explanation for this situation. The briefing was clear enough: one flight, one target. Must be a technical glitch, he thought.
“There it is,”Bresch said, confused. “It’s low. I thought the experimental was restricted to five thousand or above?”
Looking toward the horizon, Sergeant Gonzales spotted a glowing ball of light. Alternating between glossy shades of green and blue, it moved steadily to the northwest.
The luminous orb, orange now, instantaneously jumped skyward several hundred feet, and then danced ahead.
Red and silver strands, a flickering halo of plasma, encircled the sphere.
The rapid clicking now emanated, but not from the radio; it echoed through their heads. A chill shivered up Gonzales’s spine, causing him to arch his shoulders and shake his head.
The unknown target hovered, emitting a radiant glow and obscuring the stars behind it.
With eyes fixed on the object, Airman Bresch stepped backward until the truck’s bumper pressed against his trembling legs. “What’s that clicking sound?”The binoculars dropped to the ground, and then so did he, onto his knees.
Out of the darkness, the air vibrated with another, more familiar noise. Sergeant Gonzales turned around and found a relieved expression on Bresch’s face.
“Here they come!”Bresch said.
Two F-15 fighters raced in from the north. As dual intakes greedily consumed huge droughts of air, the hot turbofans propelled the planes toward the unknown. They approached, encountering their target in a matter of seconds.
It waited for them.
The fighters rushed inaggressively,closing the gap.
The object maneuvered, jumping again, two thousand feet straight up.
One of the F-15s fired its afterburners and accelerated into a steep climb. The second jet rolled through a right turn, heading west. It circled low, near the truck’s location, and then ascended directly toward the target. The other F-15 also reversed direction, running parallel to the craft and slightly above it.
The fighters engaged.
A plume of white luminescence spiraled outward from the intruder, blanketing the hilltop in a brilliant flash, and then it collapsed as quickly as it had appeared.
And the fighters vanished.
Before Sergeant Gonzales comprehended what happened, the object disappeared in a white streak toward the northwest. “My God!”
“Where are they?”Bresch said.
Gonzales grabbed the binoculars from the ground and scanned the sky and terrain. “I don’t see them.”
“They can’t just be gone. They must have crashed.”
Gonzales ran back to the truck and spoke to the lieutenant. “Sir, we need search and rescue out here right away.”
The lieutenant provided no response. His headphones layon the console, and he held a cell phone next to his ear. He did not speak, except to say, “Yes, sir.”After hanging up the phone, he said, “Sergeant, the test was scrubbed due to a communications malfunction. All other systems are normal. We’re returning to base.”
“The site is secure and all systems are normal! We are returning to base.”
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