ATHENA
Ryan W. Norris & Damian Hamilton, Ryan Evey, William W. Beckman,
(14 reviews)
Having lived their lives as the unwilling subjects of extraterrestrial attention, a group of college ... Show More
Genres:
Cross-Genre, New Adult, Sci Fi, Superhero
Tags:
1990s, alien, aliens, astrobiology, Earth Day, Idaho, Moscow, mycotaur, National Security Agency, NSA, psionic, sectoid, space opera, UFO, University of Idaho, Zeta Reticuli, Damian Hamilton, William W. Beckman, Ryan Evey

Bait

     “It’s not going to work,” Rose Tullberg said.

     John could tell she was panicking. She had alternated between panic and outright despair ever since they had left Earth. John had learned to prefer the panicking.

     “He’s not letting us anywhere near the rest of them,” Rose continued, motioning at their guard.

     John had thought they all agreed to treat what Galago (the closest thing ATHENA had to a science officer) referred to as the ‘plus’ sex as if they were female. That would make the monster before them a ‘she’.

     “These are the big bosses,” he explained again. “Everywhere we’ve gone in our section of the Orion Arm we’ve heard the same story. These creatures are the ancient ones, the stuff of legend. The one race that could conceivably put up an actual fight.”

     “And the one race that has never, under any circumstances, gotten involved.”

     They were rehashing old ground. Rose was probably right, but all that was left to ATHENA were slimmer and slimmer shards of hope. All they could do was grasp at them.

     Still, it was hard to believe these were supposed to be the good guys. The creature in front of John belonged in a Salvador Dali or Max Ernst nightmare. Known by humans as a mycotaur, it was hard, roughly the size of a Clydesdale, had four legs, and two arms. The armored skin was pasty-white: maggot colored. Its head was creepily eyeless, but with smooth pits that looked like scars from where eyes had once been. Apparently those were heat receptors. It was technically blind, but could echolocate with enough skill that it didn’t really matter. Its sensitive ears were large flat membranes similar to frog ears. The head ended in an almost comically narrow, armadillo-like toothless mouth. What it lacked in teeth, it made up for in claws at the tip of each of its four fingers and more than made up for with very impressive spines at each joint and only slightly less impressive ones across the rest of its body surface.

     Galago claimed these mycotaurs were a type of fungus. Not fungal analogues, actual fungi. They had evolved from a common ancestor that they shared with mushrooms and truffles. In fact, Galago was adamant that truffles and bread mold were more closely related to these mycotaurs than they were to mushrooms. Experiencing the galaxy beyond planet Earth had upended everyone’s ideas about how the universe worked. 

     This one was just a teenager. The bigger ones were conferring behind the closed door. John knew he would not be getting through that door anytime soon.

     Waiting with him were Rose and her baby girl Alexandra. Rose had been with John since the beginning. Now she was the last earthborn Homo sapiens still with him. It was possible the two of them were the last anywhere. John Andrews, leader of ATHENA, the last great Earth general. Good thing he was in no way a racial purist when it came to his army. He’d take anyone who’d join. Good thing he had decided long ago that he would save whoever was left if he could, but settle for revenge if he couldn’t.

     Sensing her mother’s mood, Alexandra began to stir. She was swaddled, but a slightly bluish pointy ear poked out of her blankets. Alexandra wasn’t fully Homo sapiens either.

     Her mother’s attempts to soothe her back to sleep failed. Alexandra jerked awake and started bawling. With the casualness of someone who had been bathing, pissing, and shitting in close quarters for months, Rose took out a breast and started feeding her baby.

     Their guard took several steps back, visibly shaking. The guard’s shaking may or may not have been with rage, but there was no doubt the act made her uncomfortable.

      “Rose,” John said sharply, getting her attention.

     Noticing the situation, Rose pulled a light blanket over the scene. The guard eased slightly and John did likewise. When faced with an irritable thorny Clydesdale with a reputation for ferocity that spanned half a galaxy, it was best to err on the side of tranquility.

     “What will happen if they won’t see us?”  Rose was transitioning toward the despair side again.

     “We start over. Go farther. Search for another ally.”

     “And if we don’t find one?”

     John sighed. Didn’t she mean when we don’t find one?  He wouldn’t give voice to that thought. He still had no idea why he was their leader or how to do the job, but he had learned to keep those thoughts to himself thanks to an incident with Ripper several years ago. Funny, remembering that night always brought back the smell of blood and thermite.

     He shrugged. “Then we return with what we have. Mount a guerilla campaign. Do what we can. Make them hunt every last one of us down.”  

     He looked at Alexandra’s small arm that had come loose from the swaddling. Her tiny fist was coming unclenched.

     “Some of us will stay behind, survive,” He amended.

     He leaned against a wall in somber silence. If they had been on a planet, clouds would probably have rolled in to match his mood. As it was, both he and Rose listened to Alexandra’s quiet suckling and gentle noises of contentment.

     The door opened a crack and the guard cocked her head. It had become clear that not only did mycotaurs hear much better than humans, but they had figured out what humans’ audible range was and had chosen to communicate among themselves outside of it.

     “They will see you now,” the guard said.

     John bolted to attention, thoughts racing. Hope kindled. According to legend, these older ones never actually met with anyone. He was in front of the guard in milliseconds.

     She took on an unmistakably hostile posture, leaning forward, claws at the ready. A set of large retractile spikes emerged slightly from her torso. This was part of their legend too. No one as soft-bodied as a human would ever survive a ‘hug’ from a mycotaur.

     The guard’s words were slow and methodical. “You will not dishonor them in this way. They are ready to see them.”  She pointed at Rose and her baby.

     Rose’s eyes grew wide and the blood drained from her face.

     Alexandra burped.

 
EIGHT YEARS EARLIER


     Heidi was the first to arrive at Zip’s in Moscow, Idaho. It was her first time at the restaurant even though it was an easy walk across Pullman Road from her dorm room. As a freshman with a meal plan at the University of Idaho, she was still making her way through the restaurants in town.

     Not very hungry, she just ordered a large fry and a Dr. Pepper. The fries that came were the crinkly sort that you might get out of the frozen food section of Albertsons. There was a condiment station with ketchup, tartar, and fry sauce. Heidi got some of each, sat down, and quickly exhausted her supply of tartar sauce.

     She was crazy to have come. She should have just begged off, come up with some excuse, and then not answered her phone. The people she was meeting were crazies, probably certifiable. She had met them after responding to a flyer for AAA: Alien Abductees Anonymous. That sort of thing was always a good way to meet sensible, down-to-earth folks.

     Of course, if they were crazy then what did that make her?

     Rose was the next to show up. That was just about the worst-case scenario for Heidi. Rose had a librarian’s look and manner and always seemed to be disapproving. They had absolutely nothing in common. Okay, one thing in common.

     Rose got a drink and sat down across from Heidi in the booth. Heidi couldn’t see, but she was sure Rose’s legs were crossed and her hands were folded on her lap as she peered over her glasses disapprovingly. The way her blonde hair was folded into a bun had the effect of making her brain seem big: intelligent and aloof. Rose finally said something. She seemed irritated at the need to engage in niceties.

     “Zack will be late. He’s always late.”

     “Okay.”  Heidi ate another fry.

     Rose moved her straw up and down. It was awkward fiddling, but she made it look like there was an important purpose. Heidi took a sip. Then she ate another fry.

     “So, um, how did you guys meet?”  Heidi asked.

     “We were in a dorm together our freshman year. Scholars’ Residence.”

     “And the, um, experience?  Being triple-A?  How did you find out that you had that in common?”

     “Scholars’ is off on its own, away from the other dorms. Over by the Greek houses. We were a bunch of nerds, mostly freshmen. The other dorms seemed like a long way across campus and most of us weren’t exactly chummy with the Greeks so we got to be pretty tight knit. Everyone had late night conversations with just about everybody. Eventually it was going to come out. Especially since Zack has never exactly been secretive about things.”

     Rose continued, “Unlike the rest of us, Zack actually did go to the Greek parties. That’s where he met Kim; she’s a D.G. It was just the three of us for a year or so until Zack decided to go looking for more.”

     “And that’s where triple-A came from?” Heidi asked.

     “Double-A really. The anonymous part was my idea. Zack ignored it.”

     Heidi laughed. The first thing that had happened when she arrived at the meeting was Zack sticking out his hand and asking her name as he introduced himself.

     “So you had the meeting and now how many are there?”

     “Oh, just you. You were the only one telling the truth.”

     That surprised Heidi. She seemed to recall at least one more, but couldn’t quite picture a face.

     “But what about everyone else?” she asked. “There were lots of other people at the meeting.”

     “Fakers. They all wanted to be there. You wanted to be anywhere else and wanted to be talking about anything else. The rest of them were probably just a bunch of lunatic X-Files fans anyway.”

     Heidi had watched a few episodes of the X-Files back in high school until she had realized it was mostly about aliens. That hit way too close to home. Now she tried to avoid even the commercials. Some of the girls in the dorm got together to watch the new season 3 episodes every Friday night, but Heidi always managed to have somewhere else to be or lots and lots of homework.

     There were a few more fries and more straw fiddling. Rose broke the silence this time.

     “How old were you?”

     Heidi didn’t want to talk about it. But she was here, with these people. She was going to have to. She shrugged.

     “I don’t know. We had a small ranch. They took the cows, here and there, one at a time. At some point, I began to realize they had been taking me too.”

     Rose nodded. If there had ever actually been a look of disapproval it was gone now.

     “That’s the weird thing, isn’t it?  How even now, you’re not even sure it’s real and that maybe you’re just crazy and imagining it.”

     Heidi nodded. She quietly ate a few more fries. The silence was still awkward, but it was now a different type of awkward. Remembering nightmares rarely makes for lively conversation, especially if you eventually discovered that those nightmares were real.

     Heidi was in her own world when Zack suddenly slid into the booth next to her. Her mood lightened immediately; he just had this presence to him. Tall, handsome, with two earrings in his left ear, and with half his hair dyed blue and the other half dyed red, he wore a T-shirt that said, “Earth is for Earthlings”, and a pair of track pants. His blue eyes stared into hers with what seemed like a closeness and comfortableness that went beyond a single alien abductees meeting. 

     “Hey!  You came!”  

     If she were honest with herself, Heidi would probably have to admit that Zack was the real reason she hooked up with these crazies. She probably blushed.

     “Hi!”  It came out too softly, but it did the job.

     “Hey, Rose.”  Zack said as he motioned towards Heidi’s fries. Heidi nodded vigorously and Zack dipped away in the almost unused cup of ketchup.

     “Glad you could make it.”  Heidi was pretty sure Zack didn’t notice the sarcasm in Rose’s voice.

     “Hi guys!” Kim was Zack’s girlfriend. She had on a snug retro-style Dairy Queen tee and a pair of jeans. She was wearing exactly the right amount of makeup, a touch of mascara, lipstick that might have only been gloss, and ever slightly rosy cheeks that may or may not have been natural. Blonde hair with brown streaks cut at shoulder length and a slim figure that still looked feminine. Her look was totally normal, but pulled off so well that it wasn’t. She was clearly right for a guy like Zack. Heidi had tried to dislike her ever since they met at the triple-A meeting, but was not having much luck. She was that perfect.

     As Kim stood next to Rose’s side of the booth, Heidi realized that the seating arrangement was going to split the couple. No one seemed bothered by that, though.

     “I’m going to get some food,” she told Zack. “What can I get ya?”

     “Maybe a bacon cheeseburger and a Mountain Dew. Their biggest fries so we can add to the pile.”

     “Anybody else?”

     Both Heidi and Rose said no. Rose blinked for a long time and put on a fake smile when she did so. As Kim left, Zack turned to Rose.

     “Did you tell her our plan?”

     This time Rose’s ‘no’ came with a long blink followed by an eye roll and a sigh.

     “It’s awesome!  We’ve figured out that the sectoids are totally obsessed with Rose. It’s like whatever they tried to do with the rest of us, they’ve mostly finished the job. They got us as kids and have been abducting us our whole lives, but Rose has only been taken once right before college. She’s gotten away every time since then. We think that’s why they keep coming back to Moscow. They keep trying to take her, but we always stop them.”

     “Zack’s plan is to do more than stop them,” Rose added.

     “Yeah. We fight back.! Use Rose as bait, lure them in, take them out.”

     “It’s that simple?” Heidi asked.

     “Sure. It’s not like they have ray guns.”

     “That we know of,” Rose corrected.

     “That we know of,” Zack agreed. “Look, as far as we can tell, their main goal is to stay a secret. A handful of weirdos like us knowing about them is okay, but they’ll never risk full scale public exposure.”

     Kim returned with a tray full of food.

     “I got you a Big Buster, buster,” she said as she handed Zack his cheeseburger and soda.

     Zack grabbed the fries, added them to Heidi’s pile, and ate one.

     “I got lots and lots of fry sauce. I saw that you like the tartar, Heidi, so I got a lot of that too,” Kim said as she sat down with her smaller burger and drink. “What did I miss?”

     “Zack plans to use me as bait.”

     “Cool. So you’re going to go along with it?”

     Rose shook her head.

     “Hear me out, Rose.” Zack said and turned to the group. “We’ve figured out their schedule. Sectoids are predictable and that’s part of why Rose has gotten away so far. We’ve learned to escape to a big crowded area and they just go away and try again next time. This time we’ll let them think Rose is all alone and scared and vulnerable. Then when they come for her, we jump them.”

     “And if they have ray guns?” Rose asked.

     Zack laughed. “They don’t have ray guns!  Besides, we’ll bring weapons too.”

     “Which I’m sure will be far more advanced than the weapons that beings who crossed light-years in spaceships will have.”

     Kim chimed in, “What if we find a place that’s quiet and secluded but next to somewhere crowded. Jump them if we can, but then we can escape if it doesn’t work.”

     “Maybe,” Rose didn’t sound fully convinced.

     “The next scheduled arrival should be this Friday night. I say we meet up in the alley behind the Micro Moviehouse just after dark. There should be plenty of people there on a Friday night. They’re playing some cool looking movie about drugs and Scottish people. If they don’t show up we can catch the midnight movie. Everybody bring a weapon and plan for a lot of waiting. Are we in?”

     Everyone turned to see what Heidi thought.

     “I want to see one,” she said. “In the flesh. Not in some half-asleep state when they’ve drugged me or whatever they do to us. I want to know that they’re bone and meat and blood. I want the rest of the world to see them and believe us. Mostly I want to know why. Getting one might not tell us, but it’s the best idea I can think of.”

     Everyone turned back to Rose.

     “Maybe.” She sounded a little more convinced. 

 
***


     John’s head was pounding. A freak thunderstorm had whipped up and those always gave him nasty migraines. The thing in his living room didn’t help his mood either. It was almost like it vibrated at a frequency or wavelength that couldn’t be seen heard or felt, but got under his skin.

     He jumped as his phone rang, and debated the wisdom of finishing the current cup of coffee.

     "Hello?"

     "I'M ON MY WAY!" the voice roared triumphantly.

     "That's my line!" John complained, and realized he'd begun sipping his coffee anyway.

     "Well, anyway I'm done with my physics lab and I'm coming over now. Anything I should bring?"

     "Uh, I don't know, maybe a multimeter?  A microscope?  3D glasses?"

     "Right, I'll bring Eddie. See you soon!"

     John paced a bit. He scribbled halfheartedly at his math homework. Two or three times he decided not to drink any more, but then made another cup. He paced some more. He rubbed his temples. He tried not to look at the thing in the living room.

     A rumbling, coughing engine pulled up in the driveway, spluttered, and died. A rusty door creaked and slammed. The doorbell rang. A blurry orange shape was visible through the cheap plastic panel above the screen door.

     "Come in!" John yelled, feeling better already at the idea of company.

     Brian lumbered into the room, trusty baseball bat "Eddie" slung over one shoulder. Maybe he was planning to interrogate the artifact forcefully. Maybe it was more like Linus's security blanket. 

     "Is that it?" the redhead said, peering at the strange object and fiddling with his beard. John made himself look at it directly.

      ‘It’ was a bit over a foot long, narrow, and cylindrical. It tapered in such a way that one end was a bit fatter than the other, though the narrow end widened into a miniscule knob at the end. It was rather shiny, perhaps metallic, but the knob looked like an off-white plastic. It was also hovering several inches above the table it had been placed on, and showed no signs of losing its power to do so.

     They stared at it silently for a moment. Brian was frowning. John wondered if he was getting a headache too.

     “One of the guys brought it in to Uncle Fred’s.”  John worked for his uncle at the grain silos on the south end of town.

     "Don't tell me it was Old Man Jenkins."

     "I won't. I promised Old Man Jenkins I wouldn't say where I got it."

     “Tuesday night?”

      “Yup. Same night as all the weird lights. The guy woke up drunk in a crop circle with his pants around his ankles and this thing sticking out of his ass. The guy claims to be traumatized by it and doesn't want anything to do with the thing anymore. He doesn't want anyone to know about it either. At least that's what he told all the guys unloading their grain as well as the railroad crew."

     "Sounds like Old Man Jenkins alright. And your first thought was to grab it and bring it home?"

     John shrugged. "He claims he washed it. I washed it twice and then ran it in the dishwasher just to be safe."

     Swinging the wooden bat down, Brian poked the floating thing gingerly a couple of times, then paced around in a circle, looking at it from various angles. He tried pushing it down to the tabletop, where it stayed; he then raised it up a few feet, and it stayed there too.

     Now he was grinning. "Good and weird," he said happily. Then he frowned at Eddie, as if wondering why he had a baseball bat in his hand, and set it down in the corner.

     "You got anything to drink?" he asked, staring at the floating thing. "Maybe in a paper cup?"

 
***


     An hour later, they had learned exactly nothing about what the thing was. Magnets didn't stick to it ("Or make it explode, either!" Brian laughed), it didn't ring like metal, it wasn't soft enough to cut with anything they could find, it didn't burn or even heat up much with a lighter under it. And it didn't stop floating.

     "Well, this was a big waste of time," John complained, pinching the bridge of his nose and swirling his eyes around.

     His girlfriend, Amy, had gotten home while they had been poking and prodding the thing. She had feigned a mild interest in it, before leaving the boys to their toy. Now she was in the bedroom doing important girl stuff.

     "Fuck it!” Brian exclaimed. “Want to go see Trainspotting at the Micro?  I could go for some stale buttered popcorn.

     "Uh... I don't know, my head's really bugging me... are you sure this thing isn't bothering you?"

     "Doesn't seem to be. Come on, John!  Man up, take some more tylenol, and let's go watch heroin addicts go through the DTs."

     John figured a ride breathing the fumes in Brian's piece of shit car wasn't going to improve anything, and neither was trying to enjoy a movie from the front row of a crappy dollar theater. Somehow when he went to movies with Brian, he always ended up in the front row.

     “I think I’ll pass.”

     Brian pulled out the big guns.

     “Amy!” he yelled.

     “What!” she squawked as she poked her head around the corner, her long red hair falling forward, covering her eyes.

     “Tell your boyfriend we’re going to a movie tonight.”

     “Which one?”

     “Trainspotting. It’s by a guy named Danny Boy or something like that.”

     “Who’s in it?”

     “Ewan McGregor.”

     “Never heard of him.”

     “He’s a redhead.”

     “Do you see his schlong?”

     Brian chuckled. “It just so happens that according to the guys on the alt.aliens.sightings newsgroup, you do, in fact, get a glimpse.”

     “I’ll be ready in a sec. I’m driving!” Amy announced as she ducked back into the bedroom. Her car was an old clunker, but a full decade older and more operational than Brian’s.

     Outvoted, John put on his coat. As the three were filing out the door he jumped back in the living room and grabbed the object. On a whim, he stuck it in his coat pocket.

 
***


     Rose arrived on time Saturday night for Heidi’s sake. She had walked and, carrying an evening’s worth of homework, was getting a bit uncomfortable. She had just passed Subway and was at Golden Star Chinese restaurant, when she saw a large blue and white Bronco rumble past. She had seen a similar truck in the parking lot at their meeting at Zip’s and assumed it must be Heidi. Rose crossed the street and started walking up the alley next to the Micro. The streets were more crowded than usual. It looked like the 7 o’clock showing would be popular.

     Heidi met her next to the Bronco. She was wearing a sensible coat, hat, scarf, and gloves. Her strikingly pretty, chiseled face peered out of the layers. Heidi was holding her backpack carefully and a little nervously.

     “We’re first again,” Rose said, trying to make cheerful conversation and make the newcomer feel at home. “It’s this way.”

     Rose led the way to an empty, overgrown lot across the alley and kitty-corner to the Micro. It looked like it had once been residential, but vague plans might be in place to convert it to a business. It was on the wrong side of the alley, though, and wouldn’t face Jackson Street, one of the main roads through town. Overall, it was a good location for their plans. Secluded, but close enough to a big road (by Moscow, Idaho standards) and a popular movie theater that if they made a run for it they could get to other people.

     The grass was tall and the lot was littered with cinder blocks. It was poorly lit. The kind of place a college-aged girl knew to avoid even in a small, crime-free Idaho town. There were bushes and stubby trees throughout, but a particularly thick group was located near the center of the lot. Rose set her bag down near the bushes.

     “This looks like the spot where you guys will set up. You can get a view of the lot without really being seen. That way it won’t matter what direction they come from.”

     She left her bag and started walking the rest of the lot. She noticed that Heidi clung to hers as she followed. There were a couple of concrete blocks with rusty rebar halfway between the bushes and the far end of the lot. More bushes, half a chain link fence, a few trees, and a narrow street separated them from some storage units to the north. The area across the street to the west looked to be residential, but a small hill and more trees blocked the view. The concrete blocks clearly indicated her spot.

     “I guess I start here and if they show up from the wrong direction, I just lead them over to where you guys are.”

     This whole thing was a bad idea.

     “I don’t know about this,” she added.

     “They’re here,” Heidi said, looking back in the direction from which they had come.

     Rose and Heidi started back toward the bushes. Kim and Zack wandered into the lot and headed to intercept. Kim was waving vigorously. She had on a stylish pea coat with a pink scarf and a tiny pink backpack. Zack was a bit underdressed for the weather with a black leather jacket and a Spiderman backpack. He was carrying what looked like a croquet mallet. Kim had a small pink aluminum Hello Kitty baseball bat.

     Zack had two pizza boxes and both were holding drinks. Rose was going to willingly get captured by aliens from another world and these two were ready for a party.

     “You call these weapons?” she asked.

     “You should try getting hit by one of these,” Zack said as he swung the mallet. “I also have a knife in my pack.”

     Kim set her drink down and started slapping her bat against her palm. She tried to look menacing, but failed.

     “Did you bring anything?” she asked Heidi.

     “Um. I spent the day driving down to my cousin’s in Lewiston and borrowed his Smith & Wesson. I’ll need to return it tomorrow. I can’t really have it in the dorms.”

     She opened her pack and showed them the small holstered revolver.

     “Right on!” Kim said.

     “A gun to a knife fight,” Rose said. “Do you know how to use it?”

     “Yeah. I mean I haven’t shot a Model 60 that much, but I would shoot bottles as target practice with some of our revolvers back home. I know my way around a rifle a little better, but that didn’t seem practical.”  She paused a moment. “Sorry, guys, but I thought you meant real weapons.”

     “Speaking as the one whose ass is on the line, I’m glad somebody came seriously prepared.”  Rose glared at Zack and his croquet mallet, but he didn’t seem to notice.

     “That’s awesome,” he said. “As long as there aren’t 7 of them.”

     “It holds five rounds, not six,” Heidi explained, still clearly uncomfortable, “but I have more ammo.”

     “The plan is to try and take one alive,” Zack reminded everyone.

     “When they turn out to have ray guns, we’ll be glad Heidi’s here,” Rose said.

     “Oh, I definitely won’t use it except in an emergency,” Heidi said. “I mean, we’re talking about shooting a gun inside a city. And I’m only an okay shot. I won’t fire it if anyone’s nearby.”

     “Well,” Kim said, “at least we brought Pizza Pipeline.”   She motioned to boxes and Zack’s backpack. “Everyone dig in. We brought a 6 pack of pop too.”

     Rose decided that there were probably worse last meals than slices of lukewarm Canadian bacon and mushroom. 

 
***


     John wasn’t so sure the movie had been a good idea. They had arrived late and had to park almost a block away, which made them even later. Then Amy insisted on getting popcorn, which made the difference between just missing the previews and actually missing the start of the movie. Sure enough, the only seats left were in the front row. That was rough in a normal cinema, but at a cheap theater that was a converted church which was itself a converted barn, it was particularly bad. Fortunately, he had been stupid enough to grab the weird object, so he had a pounding headache to go with his seized neck.

     But the movie was cool. He couldn’t make out at least a third of what anyone was saying, but he definitely got the point. Since it had finished, he’d been busy trying to think of anything he might be addicted to and was all fired up to quit. Coffee!  No more coffee. From now on, he was choosing life. Life over coffee.

     It was a bit of a hike up the street to the car. John was lagging a bit behind Brian and Amy. They had been switching conversation topics so quickly that he had given up on trying to keep up. The Worst Toilet in Scotland, dead babies, then back to an old debate about male versus female nudity in entertainment. For the moment, John was happier in his own head.

     The other moviegoers had gotten to their vehicles much sooner and what had been a crowd had turned into just the three of them. As they finally got closer to Amy’s car, the street became less well-lit. John’s eyes adjusted and he started to make out a scene in the distance. An impossible sort of scene. The kind that doesn’t go well with a movie about hallucinations, drugs, and a migraine. His brain needed external confirmation of what his eyes were telling him.

     “Hey guys. Um, is that a chick sitting alone in an empty lot doing her homework while an alien, like, an extraterrestrial alien, is sneaking up behind her?”

     His companions responded in completely opposite ways. Amy froze in place, wide-eyed. When her mouth wasn’t gaping open, it was saying “Holy shit!” over and over.

     Brian, on the other hand, didn’t hesitate at all. He sprinted the last few paces to Amy’s car, opened the always unlocked door, grabbed Eddie, slammed the door, and raced full-speed toward the planetary trespasser with Eddie held aloft.

     John wasn’t sure that would have been his first reaction, but he assumed the rules of honor when your friend is throwing down with an alien were pretty much the same as when he was about to get in a fight any other time. So, grabbing the only thing he had, the object in his pocket, John ran after him.

 
***


     Zack was amazed that things were actually going according to plan. An honest-to-God sectoid was sneaking up on Rose. To say it looked just like he remembered them wouldn’t be quite right. The memories of those nights when they had taken him weren’t really memories. Blurs, fragments, flashes might be better descriptors. But yeah. This thing fit. It was short and grey with a big head with big eyes on top of a tiny body with tiny limbs.

     He hadn’t seen any lights in the sky and had no idea where it came from. The thing had just shown up from behind the nearest set of storage units and started toward her right on schedule. Quickly walking with its creepy, fluid, boneless gait, it was sneaking from tree to tree, bush to bush. It was coming from a difficult direction, but he had made eye contact with Rose and knew that she knew it was there. She was about to put her book down and start leading it into their ambush.

     If someone had told Zack that his plan would fail, he wouldn’t have been surprised. But he never would have guessed that it might fail like this.

     From somewhere off to his right, a stocky redheaded redbearded short dude came running onto the scene wielding a big club. He was followed a moment later by another guy waving a sex toy. Behind him was a chick stumbling along saying “Holy shit!” over and over. So much for the ambush.

     “Huh,” he said, “I guess there’s no use staying here.”

     Dropping everything but his croquet mallet, Zack made a beeline for the sectoid. The other two triple-As followed.

     Red ran straight toward the alien who paused a few seconds out of confusion. Zack had always wanted to see the look on one’s face when it was afraid and tonight was finally the night. Attempts at stealth abandoned, it turned and bolted back toward the storage units, its creepy bendy gait fast, but not quite fast enough.

     Zack was gaining ground on everyone, but Red had a good head start and met the alien at the building. He didn’t hesitate; he just swung his bat at the creature.

     This guy is totally rad!  He meets a creature from outer space in a dark lot and his first instinct is to bludgeon it!

     The sectoid dodged, but was thrown off-balance enough that Red got another chance. He put everything he had into the next swing. It missed the sectoid, but put a huge dent in the sheet metal on the side of the unit.

     In spite of Red’s attempts, the sectoid slipped around the corner. Zack and Red followed it, but somehow it was gone. Totally vanished. There was just a long bare wall, a few barrels, and some trash. They ran to the barrels and started looking in and around them.

     “Who the hell are you?” Zack asked the redhead while he looked.

     “Brian.”

     “Yeah, but who the hell are you?”

     Brian shrugged. “I just got done watching a movie and I saw an alien about to attack that girl.”

     At that point, the guy with the sex toy showed up, breathing hard.

     “Where’d it go?  What are we doing?  Are we trying to kill it?”

     Kim arrived. “It’s gone!”  She turned on the newcomers, “What did you scare it away for?”

     The phrase “Holy shit!” came from around the corner.

     “Is she with you?” Zack asked

     “Yeah, she’s my girlfriend,” Sex Toy said. “So you guys knew it was there?”

     Kim answered. “We were hiding behind some bushes waiting for it to get closer.”

     “So were you trying to talk to it or something?” Sex Toy asked.

     “Hell, no,” Zack said. “We were going to do what Big Red over here tried to do. We just had a plan.”

     “Oh. Sorry.”  Sex Toy seemed to really mean it.

     “No, it’s cool.” Zack laughed. “That was the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in my life!  Don’t worry, we’ll get another chance in a few weeks.”

     That was the moment Heidi spoke up.

     “Hey guys?  Where’s Rose?”
Log in to add a comment or review for this chapter Chapter updated on: 3/25/2014 11:16:50 PM
  • Geri Rowe commented on :
    10/25/2016 12:59:02 AM
    Liking it so far....
  • Deandre commented on :
    7/5/2016 5:57:48 PM
    Vivid descriptions and great start. I was hooked early on by the descriptions.
  • anna brown commented on :
    3/31/2016 2:39:45 AM
    Hello good day, i will like to meet you in person, am miss Anna, am from France and am leaving in London, please contact me on my email id at (annh1brown@hotmail.com), ... Show More
  • Sara Klein commented on :
    3/29/2016 9:38:29 PM
    Nice!!
  • TP Keating commented on :
    11/15/2015 8:06:54 PM
    That mycotaur is solidly creepy. A great first chapter.
    • Ryan W. Norris Thank you. Ascomycotes are inherently scary.
      11/15/2015 8:18:37 PM
  • Michael J. Brooks commented on :
    7/13/2015 4:15:16 AM
    Enjoying this tory so far. Fun and exciting.
  • Mande Chambers commented on :
    7/2/2015 3:24:28 AM
    So far loving it! Weill definitely read more once things settle down here!
    • Ryan W. Norris Thank you very much for trying it out.
      7/3/2015 2:10:19 AM
  • Brandon Getz commented on :
    6/30/2015 11:36:00 PM
    Really solid descriptions of the aliens -- an evolved fungus?? Love it.
    • Ryan W. Norris Thanks! Ascomycotes are people too. Cool to see someone who might enjoy Palouse Science Fiction.
      7/1/2015 12:28:23 AM
  • Jennifer Flath commented on :
    8/3/2014 8:50:03 PM
    Guys, it's so weird how much this reminds me of college. I mean, without the alien beings and abductions and stuff, and in Spokane instead of Idaho. Also, our cheap movie ... Show More
    • Ryan W. Norris Thank you! I keep wishing there were a better way to target the 'went to college in a small Western town' demographic, because I thin they might enjoy our story. I can't imagine anyone who's lived within a couple hundred miles of the Palouse not having a few alien stories. Just so you know, there are tricks to getting your stolen memories back.
      8/3/2014 11:58:56 PM
    • Shaunn Grulkowski Wait, so this doesn't take place in Iowa?
      8/4/2014 12:07:11 AM
    • Jennifer Flath I bet you're SO embarrassed right now, Shaunn. Funny story, after a comment I made to Athena on twitter about being west of the Mississippi, I learned that Iowa is also west of the Mississippi. Who knew?
      8/4/2014 12:25:55 AM
    • Laura Tatum I was about to make a comment about college, but then I saw this- perfect! I am really enjoying this!
      5/13/2015 9:13:05 PM
    • Ryan W. Norris Thanks, Laura!
      5/13/2015 11:46:37 PM
  • RJ Stein commented on :
    1/2/2015 5:39:31 AM
    Great first chapter. Bookshelved to read more later.
  • E.H. Qin commented on :
    1/2/2015 2:38:51 AM
    Moscow! love it
    • Ryan W. Norris We've tried hard to make 1990s Moscow a 'character' in the story, but still accessible to the 99.9% of the world who've never been there.
      1/2/2015 2:57:12 AM
  • Lovely Khurana commented on :
    12/10/2014 2:13:08 AM
    Interesting! I added to my bookshelf.
  • HemDiva commented on :
    11/26/2014 10:14:37 AM
    Intriguing....! Perfect descriptions. And awesome concept.
  • Mellissa Green commented on :
    9/24/2014 6:09:59 PM
    I think the future should be moved to after the the meeting. Seems backwards, the way you did it.
    • Ryan W. Norris Thank you for reading. The future section is intended to serve as a prologue told in the form of a flashforward. We're starting all of the "episode" storyarcs with them. Our hope is to show you what's coming and then show you how the characters got there.
      9/24/2014 8:51:02 PM
    • Mellissa Green Who's your coauthor? I think it was mentioned. Do they have a Twitter account?
      9/24/2014 10:13:52 PM
    • Ryan W. Norris The other authors are Damian Hamilton, William W. Beckman, and Ryan Evey. We write and tweet as a committee.
      9/24/2014 10:17:16 PM
  • V V commented on :
    9/10/2014 7:59:45 AM
    vivid imagination!
  • Steven Haton commented on :
    8/29/2014 8:38:10 PM
    Very well written. I liked how you started the story eight years in the future and then cut to present day. Good way to start out with action to get the reader ... Show More
  • Dennis J Pale commented on :
    8/21/2014 5:06:22 AM
    As an orc (ork?) fan, any story with a fungus-based alien is ok by default. Also, your alien designs remind me of Asimov's few dalliances with extraterrestrial characters.
    • Ryan W. Norris If they had met with that mycotaur's parent, the conversation would have been a lot more boring.
      8/21/2014 12:55:43 PM
  • a dabra commented on :
    7/31/2014 4:40:29 AM
    great chapter.
    • Ryan W. Norris Thank you. I hope you will keep reading.
      7/31/2014 6:19:36 AM
  • Tonya Moore commented on :
    7/25/2014 1:44:56 AM
    Intriguing story so far! I can still picture that mycotaur in my head... yeesh. I'm definitely hooked.
    • Ryan W. Norris Thanks so much for reading. Mycotaur sounded better than fungisaurus, but less technical than anthrozoomycote.
      7/25/2014 2:04:06 PM
  • Ryan Watt commented on :
    7/22/2014 10:32:25 PM
    Why haven't I started this sooner? I've seen it on here enough. The concept sounds great. The plotting of this chapter is solid. And so many great lines "The guy with the ... Show More
    • Shaunn Grulkowski It's one of my favorite books on here.
      7/22/2014 10:36:40 PM
    • Ryan Watt Well I definitely plan on making it my before bedtime iPad read tonight... we'll see how far I get. What else do you like, Shaunn?
      7/23/2014 12:50:42 AM
    • Shaunn Grulkowski How to Break an Evil Curse, The Black Pearl, Cargo, DC Girl Fight, Angels, Ghosts and the Otherworld. I've got a book people seem to like too.
      7/23/2014 1:08:38 AM
    • Ryan Watt I've started Retcontinuum, need more time to keep caught up. HtBaEC is also on my shelf. Hopefully mine will join your ranks eventually.
      7/23/2014 1:10:03 AM
    • Ryan W. Norris In addition to Shaunn's list (and you must read Retcontinuum & 2nd Semester Bushido), check out the JP SF classics: X349, Larry the Horrible Time Traveler, & And There in the Wild Eyes Did Gleam.
      7/24/2014 5:15:43 PM
  • William Grit commented on :
    5/10/2014 2:21:25 AM
    I'm watching you. GOD.
  • S Vest commented on :
    4/17/2014 2:42:46 AM
    Finally started reading ATHENA. I like the humor & the opening with the mycotaur (sp?) is quite intriguing. Look forward to more with this crew.
  • F.A Carrillo commented on :
    4/15/2014 1:36:28 AM
    I'm not a usually a sci-fi fan, but Athena looks intriguing. Added to my shelf.
  • Brian Guthrie commented on :
    4/8/2014 9:08:06 PM
    Just started and so far this is great. A few repetitive sentences (exact phrases used to start back to back sentences) but otherwise I didn't notice too much editing ... Show More
  • Lisa Klass commented on :
    3/30/2014 8:24:10 PM
    Suspenseful, and descriptive. Love the scene that played through my mind, especially the sex toy weilding semi-hero-that brought on a fit of laughter!
  • Ryan W. Norris commented on :
    3/25/2014 12:04:50 PM
    A previous version of this chapter said "SIX YEARS LATER" to separate the first section from the rest. This has been modified to say "EIGHT YEARS LATER".
  • Linda Talisman commented on :
    3/17/2014 4:10:40 AM
    Just shared: Whether you're interested in alien abductions or sci fi or not, this is just great. Characters, plot, action, the whole deal. Enjoy!
    • Ryan W. Norris Thank you. We, of course, hope to deliver the whole package, but it's humbling you think we might be succeeding.
      3/17/2014 6:58:12 PM
  • Catherine Russell commented on :
    3/12/2014 2:40:34 PM
    That was AWESOME. Love the double twist at the end!
    • Ryan W. Norris Wow. Thank you. I hope you keep reading.
      3/12/2014 3:08:16 PM
  • Laura Klotz commented on :
    3/7/2014 3:51:06 AM
    It's completely different from the sort of things I usually read, but I can see there's a lot of interesting stuff going on. I do agree with Mr. Sanders' review about the ... Show More
    • Ryan W. Norris Thank you! The longer chapter is intentional so that people who haven't subscribed to JukePop will experience enough to be motivated to keep reading. Later chapters are shorter.
      3/7/2014 7:10:44 AM
  • Ryan W. Norris commented on :
    1/16/2014 4:09:23 PM
    Thanks, Shaunn. We're in the beginning stages of designing a new cover. It could be awhile. Choose life!
  • Shaunn Grulkowski commented on :
    1/16/2014 4:03:39 PM
    X-Files: It's mostly about aliens. Great stuff so far, from the cover I thought it was strictly mythological. I was presently surprised to find the beginnings of a ... Show More
  • Ryan W. Norris commented on :
    7/29/2013 7:57:46 PM
    Acknowledgements: Thanks to Amy Evey, Erin Ogden Green, David Korus, Joyce Mansisidor Ejgird, Camha Nguyen, Holly Noah, Amy Norris, Seanbaby Reiley, Renee ... Show More
  • 2/19/2015 8:10:14 PM
    Because you replied to my post on Twitter, I decided to check out your story, ATHENA. And I'm glad I did. The opening chapter got straight into the action, and the ... Show More
  • 8/4/2013 8:52:06 PM
    This is extraordinary writing. I'm hooked. The only suggestion that I could make is that your future installments should be shorter, maybe one or two scenes per chapter. ... Show More