Corona, New Mexico
Wednesday, July 2, 1947
The night was so hot, it hurt to breathe.
Lightning laced the sky. Thunder bellowed, taunting with the broken promise of rain. The pressure of the air was a tangible thing, like an itch or an ache that wouldn't go away.
On a road that was little more than a wide rut, an Army troop truck trudged to a stop. Inside its cab the driver turned to the man ten years his junior next to him, trying to filter the insolence from his voice.
"Anything, Major?" he asked.
The young major looked up from the chart spilled over his lap, angling it toward the cab light. A drop of sweat plopped fatly against the map, leaving another small, slight furrow as it dried. "Nothing, Sergeant. And there may be nothing." Despite the fact that he spoke at a perfectly normal tone, his voice sounded like wind whispering over desert sand.
"The men back there're getting pretty hot, I'll bet," said the sergeant, a practical man.
The major nodded. "Then let's get on our way. This road is as close to a main drive through this country as exists."
"Could you at least tell me what we're looking for, Major? I know this area pretty well, and - "
The major shook his head, running a handkerchief over his angular face. "Sorry. If it's any consolation, I'll know it if I see it."
"It's not," muttered the sergeant.
"What was that?" asked the major, sharply.
"Nothing, sir." The sergeant wiped his sleeve across his brow. "Just cussing out the heat."
The major nodded, as if accepting this. "Let's go. That will at least start the air moving back there."
The sergeant grunted and put the machine in gear, pulling it off the shoulder onto the main road - as though such a distinction made any difference. Though he wasn't the least tired he yawned, hoping his ears would pop.
The major's eyes, their pupils almost colorless, swept over the road before them. No, not the road, thought the sergeant. The sky. What the hell -? Actually, maybe it wasn't so odd. On a night like this, away from Roswell Army Air Field, the stars between the clouds seemed to go on forever, like a lake of dark water you could dive into and never come up from.
"Don't tell me," scoffed the sergeant, in an attempt at camaraderie, "that we're looking for one of those flying saucers." Sightings of strange objects in the sky had begun last month, everyone was either talking about them or pretending not to. He turned to the major prepared to share a soldierly grin, instead surprised by the intensity behind those colorless pupils.
"No one said anything about flying saucers, sergeant."
"No, sir," said the sergeant, turning his eyes to the road and gripping the wheel until his knuckles turned white.
The truck trundled over the excuse for a road, its engine protesting as it encountered potholes or crawled over fallen tree trunks, the men in the truck protesting in their own way, their groaning often drowned out by the rumblings from the sky.
The sergeant watched the ground while the major watched the sky.
"Cut the engine," the major snapped. The sergeant complied, and the major cocked an ear skyward. A moment later he slammed a fist on the back wall of the cab, silencing the grousing of the men back there.
"There," he said. "Do you hear it?"
The sergeant shook his head. Billions of crickets, sure, the occasional howl of whatever the hell lived out here, but anything else...? "No, sir," he began.
Then he did. A strange kind of rushing sound, something moving toward them, very fast. The sergeant scanned the road before them, then his mirrors, frantically. If they were hit by something going that speed -
Then the cab was awash with light. The sergeant swung his head from side to side, looking for headlights. But he didn't see any.
"There!" shouted the major, pointing up.
Just as the sergeant looked up, something shot over them - no, two somethings, twin plumes of light. He ducked, cursing his stupid instincts as he did so.
"Did you see it?" shouted the major. "That wasn't lightning! There! West! Go!" He seized a walkie-talkie from a compartment in the door next to him and began dictating orders into it urgently, repeating coordinates and the words "possible target sighting" over and over.
The light shot out ahead and over the horizon. The sergeant threw the truck in gear and roared off, waiting for the light to reappear again. Only one reappeared.
Instead, even over the noise of the engine, he heard the crash, even though it sounded very far away.
"Go! Go!" shouted the major. "We've got to find it!"
"Major, that thing could be miles away! I don't think we can catch up to it by our - "
"Damn it, move!" screamed the major. His left foot came up and over, slamming on the sergeant's foot which hovered over the gas pedal.
"Major - !" shouted the sergeant. There was an instant's silence as the tires of the troop transport left the ground, plunging over the edge of the road. Then the sickening sensation of plummeting through space without control.
Then endless noise again as the transport came down, hard, louder than the thunder above, or the screams of the men being transported.
Under the starlight, men and pieces of men lay broken and bent, beside pieces of truck, similarly deformed.
Overhead, thunder rumbled once again, reasserting its dominance. Finally the sky broke, coming down in sheet after sheet of drenching rain so warm it felt like spit.