Roswell, New Mexico.
About five beers past closing time.
The desert is exceedingly flat, as deserts are wont to be, and two men are standing next to the open tailgate of a beat-up old pickup truck, wearing plaid jackets to ward off a chill they’re too drunk to feel, and arguing loudly while one of them loads .22 rounds into a rifle.
“…I’ll tell you what the problem is, Terry” the rifleman finishes loading his gun and takes aim along the barrel – even drunk his hands are incredibly steady as he fires off two rounds, shattering the beer bottles they had standing up on the fence rail about twenty yards away. “I spent four fucking years in that sandbox – worked on tanks, drones, defused a fucking bomb, and I come back and they tell me that I’m not good enough to keep a couple of factory presses runnin’? That’s fucked up” he takes another shot, and another beer bottle disintegrates. Neither man notices the falling star overhead.
Nor do they notice when a piece of that star splits off from the main body, arcing through the sky toward them. Zeiss notices that, though – it was a turret array, badly damaged by her sloppy re-entry and peeling off to – hopefully -disintegrate in the upper atmosphere. Or not. She has bigger things to worry about, like where are the brakes.
<zeiss> This is a crash. She is crashing. That’s bad. She never trained for this! She’s a /scientist/, not a pilot. So far, she’s been running the ship through the suit, but this is a bit beyond the interface she jury-rigged. Okay. Try to get this to work, somehow. Activate atmospheric maneuvering, try to hit airbrakes… And start slagging the databanks. Bad enough that humans are sloppy enough to let masses of old debris float around //in orbit// (honestly, don’t they //clean//? That’s a hazard to navigation!), but she’s not about to let Khyreen weapons-technology fall into their hands. Or anything that //can// be weaponized. Hopefully. Too late to do anything about the turret, but the main batteries and point-defense-guns need to go fer sure.
For a species that loves to have everyone neatly labelled, the Khyreen are not great at leaving clear instructions on their control panels, and Zeiss’ occupational training did not include “how to hurtle toward a giant ball of dirt and trace minerals at several times the speed of sound and not die”, so figuring out how to turn on the landing sequence isn’t exactly a walk in the zero-gravity recreation zone.
As she frantically scrubs anything obviously dangerous (triggering a series of explosions along the hull as she detonates the laser weapons seems to have made her crash faster. great.), flaps flap, inertial dampeners dampen and the ship hits the ground hard, skidding across the loose-packed sand and kicking up a huge plume in its wake.
The last of the ship’s inertia finally plays out, leaving it about twenty feet from a smallish, possibly prefabricated dwelling of some kind. The roof is covered in black panels that the suit’s on-board AI identifies as solar absorptive material, and the walls are constructed of some sort of thin alloyed plating. There is a row of pink avian statues, constructed from plastic, lining the walk up to the main entrance, and it looks like someone just turned on an interior light.
<zeiss> There’s a crunch as something breaks ( thankfully not her ), and Zeiss finds herself lying in the wreckage of the main console. The armor absorbed the crash, but the controls are utterly totalled. At least her dataworms are still cleaning out the navigational and astrogation parts of the database… But even dizzy and lying in the sparking remains of the main console, she has the presence of mind to keep some of the history- and organizational banks alone. There’s no way she’s going to get the entire ship broken down before //someone// investigates, so she may as well leave a clue that trying to fix the comm-array is a //profoundly// bad idea. Some of the sensors are still working… good.
And now she’s been spotted. Perfect.
She begins to dig her way out of the wrecked controls. Might as well greet the locals and test how good her nanonics integrated the local language. English seems to be the most common one. Hopefully this individual speaks it.
The human that staggers out of the house is dressed in a pair of baggy pants that cut off at the knees and a sleeveless shirt. Around his neck is a string made of animal hide, from which appears to hang some kind of large incisor. The suit’s night vision has already kicked in, using the ambient light reflected by the moon and starlight to give Zeiss a clear picture of a slightly dazed looking man with a squarish jaw and chin-length, light brown hair. He takes a couple of uncertain steps toward the downed spacecraft, blinking a couple of times. “Whoa”
<zeiss> The main hatch, naturally, has had its servoes fused. As Zeiss begins to force it open ( by the most direct method; violence ), she examines the image of the… man. It’s strange to think that less than two months ago, she didn’t even think about others in those terms. Or herself, even. The armored fist hits the hatch once, twice… and then she finishes by aiming a decent kick right at the weakest point.
Zeiss sends the hatch flying off and clambers out. The metal door crumples, allowing Zeiss to crawl free from the wreckage as the dataworms erase pretty much everything from the storage drives except enough information to warn off anyone who might be thinking of calling home.
“Wait. I know this one…” he stops for a second, then raises his hands “Habla Anglais?”“… Yes. Yes I speak English.” The suit distorts the voice slightly, sounding obviously auto-tuned… Though not that far off from the way she usually sounds. Systems check first of all. Start a self-diagnostic on the suit. “If you do not mind… citizen? Yes. That sounds right. Where am I?”
“Name’s Marty, man, and you’re in the middle of freakin’ nowhere”
<zeiss> “… This is accurate.” More accurate than he knows, certainly. “May I ask which //nation// I am currently in?” English seems to be the common language, at least, as far as Zeiss can judge such things
“…wait, you’re not Mexican at all are you? Man, I know exactly what you are.” his eyes go wide “Holy shit, this is so cool – I saw you guys in concert last year. It was fucking badass – how’d you get all the way out to Roswell though? And where’s the other guy?”
Zeiss> “… I’m sorry?” Now she’s //totally// lost. “I am afraid you may have me confused with someone else?” That’s… the only thing that can make sense, right? “But you are correct, I am not… Mexican, was it?” That narrows it down somewhat. She brings up a quick overview of the nations ( what a strange concept ) on the planet. “… Ah. I am in the continental United States. Roswell… New Mexico?”
She read something about that place, didn’t she, while lurking behind the moon, before she pin-pointed the beacon.
“That’s right – Roswell, New fucking Mexico. Home of UFOlogy and the world’s largest mozzarella cheese factory. Which reminds me, I just got a pizza from Tony’s. You hungry?”
<zeiss> … Now that he mentions it, Zeiss //is// feeling a touch hungry. Crashing tends to do that, apparently. Her body is having some interesting stress-reactions right now, and food would probably help. “I- Thank you. I accept your gracious offer of a shared meal.” She’s not quite sure she said that right.
Marty grins and motions for Zeiss to follow him inside. “You’re a little weird, you know that?” the interior of the trailer is a bit cramped for two people, but Marty quickly sweeps a stack of UFOlogy newsletters and magazines off of the table and sits down a box of what appears to be some kind of pie covered in fermented lactose byproduct. Along with two long-necked brown bottles. “Do you drink beer? If not, I…well..all I have is beer, so…”
<zeiss> “I have never had the opportunity to try it before.” Which is absolutely true. She picks up a slice and examines it critically. The food… should be safe to eat, even if it contains far more protein and various salts than Zeiss regularly consumes. On the other hand, she may as well learn to like it, because right now she’s stuck here. “However, I am sure it will be an interesting experience.”
The helmet begins to fold back, out of the way so she can eat… Giving Marty a good look at his guest’s actual appearance.
“Holy shit. You’re an alien” and then Marty faints.
<zeiss> “Ye- Oh dear.”
Meanwhile, not too far away.
The pickup truck is destroyed and former Sgt. Earnest “Deadeye” Daughton has been tossed through the air like a ragdoll by the impact. His ears are still ringing as he sits up, slightly dazed, and scrambles to his feet, reaching for his sidearm on instinct only to remember a split second later that the only gun he had in this desert was the old .22 he had been plinking with.
As his hearing, and senses return, he scans the wreckage – flaming debris from the truck, as well as whatever crashed into it, lies scattered around the sandy ground. The area around the crash can’t even be called sand anymore – the heat’s fused it into a sort of green glass, like the stuff he remembers hearing about at nuclear test sites.
His rifle is broken in two, and his drinking buddy – Terry – probably wishes he were that lucky, or would if he were still alive. Dispassionately, Earnest picks his way past his friend’s remains, scrambling down the glassy wall of the crater. He barely notices the burns on his hand or the smell of rubber from the soles of his shoes as he makes his way toward the think lying at the center. A single red light pulses on it, drawing him closer.
He doesn’t have time to react to the three metal tendrils that extend from the device and bury themselves in his outstreched arm. By the time he realizes what’s happening, his head is filled with a single, simple phrase. “Self-repair process initiated”
Back at the ranch, trailer…whatever these humans call it.
It takes a few minutes of fanning to get Marty to wake up, and when he does, he nearly passes out again at the sight of Zeiss’ face. After collecting himself and gulping down about half his beer, though, he seems a little more sanguine about the whole thing.
<zeiss> “I am sorry for shocking you like that,” Zeiss repeats for about the fifth time… even if she is nibbling at a slice of pizza. “It simply did not occur to me that you would have that strong a reaction to my appearance. I will know better in future.” Without the mask, her voice //still// has that odd, audio-tunes quality to it, only much more muted.
“Heh…hey ,don’t worry about it. It’s not every day you meet a real live alien. Well, I suppose it is every day for you, but guys like me? Not so much. I guess I just expected a little more Reiculan and a little less Zentradi, if you know what I mean. It occurs to me that you probably don’t, since I don’t think they have Japanese imports in space. I’m rambling aren’t I?”“Perhaps a little.” Zentradi? Reiculan? “Those other species you mention are not familiar to me. Of course, I have not met many other aliens, apart from yourself.” Another careful nibble on the pizza, and then she ventures to try the beer. It’s… strange. “Fermented vegetable matter tastes… odd.” She makes a face, then takes another careful sip. “Your species drink this to satisfy some dietary need?” She can’t imagine them drinking it for any other reason, surely.
“Only the dietary need to get lightly toasted. It’s more of a recreational beverage. Oh man, I’ve got like a million questions to ask you – I don’t even know where to start. Where are you from? What’s your species like? Are you friendly or hostile?”
<zeiss> “It is… complicated. But to make it as simple as possible? I am from a world some twelve to thirteen thousand light-years away, nearer the Core. My species is… expansionist. I am friendly, they might well be hostile. Luckily, they do not know you are here. I am a refugee.” There. That should cover the salient details well enough. “I assure you, I mean no harm to you, or your world.”
“Oh, cool. So you’re like some kind of exiled space princess trying to escape a corrupt political regime. Makes perfect sense.” he takes a bite of pizza and grins “Well, what’s your next move then, your highness?”
<zeiss>… Wait. What? “… I think you misunderstand. I am not royalty. I am a scientist.” Though, he does raise a good point. “… I suppose my next move is to finish with my ship, and then try to find some place where I can… Settle, I suppose?” She honestly hadn’t given it much thought. “I followed an emergency beacon here, so I believe there is another refugee on this world.” Best not to tell him about her madness. It might upset him further.“Well, that makes sense – there was a crash here about 60 years ago. The government claimed it was a weather balloon, but I guess it was your refugee. If it was, I don’t think he made it – I’m sorry,” he takes another sip of beer “I don’t know about settling, but you can crash here. Err, well you’ve already crashed here, but you can stay for a while, if you need to. Maybe get some clothes that aren’t so Starship Troopers’ chic,”
<zeiss> Ignoring the strange cultural references, Zeiss at least understands what he’s getting at. It might be possible to reconfigure, or at least cloak the suit somewhat. She begins to work up a passable holographic camoflage routine, before replying. “I would not wish to inconvenience you further… Your government has no doubt already noted my entry into the atmosphere, and will no doubt be sending someone to investigate shortly. I should not be here when they arrive, it would cause… trouble.” For all involved. Ah. The routine is finished. Time to test it out…
And Marty is treated to the sight of the armor simply vanishing, to be replaced by… slightly eccentric, but otherwise normal clothing. Shorts, jacket, shoes… Granted, it looks like it was assembled by a Grunge-punk adherent, but it’s not alien power-armor, and it won’t stick out //too// much. For a given value of “too much”.
“Nice threads,” he grins and raises his beer bottle…just in time for a flash of bright lights and the sound of helicopter rotors outside to announce the arrival of, as Zeiss put it, trouble.