The alien spacecraft came in low and fast, underneath the radar out at Penrith station, and appeared briefly as a blur on the Maglen air-control screens. Jonathan tapped the screen with a bitten fingernail and sighed.
“Another one,” he called across the room. There was only him and Abigail in there at this time of night, and they had less than an hour to go before the end of their shift and shutting down the airfield for the night. “When are we getting this kit checked out?”
“Thursday,” said Abigail. She was doing a crossword in a magazine while she waited out the end of the shift. The last flight out had been a half-hour ago, and the last flight in was currently on time and ten minutes away. “They think we complain too much.”
“Too much? We get random anomalies like this three nights out of five. What’re they going to do when we’re getting them all the time and can’t tell where the planes are for the blips?”
“Probably sack us for not doing the job properly and hire some untrained kid who thinks they’re going to flip burgers.” Abigail scratched out something in her magazine and started chewing the end of her pen.
“Hah. Reckon I could get a job flipping burgers then, if they’re going to come in here and direct air-traffic?”
“Nope. You’ve got a lousy attitude, you’ll never pass the customer service element of it.”
Jonathan’s wife Estelle stood in front of the closet and poked the cardboard box with a toe. It was an angry toe, but that was because Estelle was angry all over. Her marriage had, she felt, been falling apart since the moment she’d said ‘I do’. She’d had a moment where she almost spoke up and asked for a do-over, but it had passed and then Jonathan had been kissing her and everybody had been cheering – well, everybody was a bit strong for her parents, his parents, her best friend and his parents’ dogs, but they’d been cheering anyway. Or woofing. That might be dog-cheering she supposed. And she’d been looking for a divorce ever since.
She poked the box again. This, she thought, might be it. Four dirty, filthy, mucky magazines that she knew she’d not bought. Four dirty, filthy, all-male magazines. The ones she bought had women and dogs in, and she kept them better hidden than this, in a cardboard box at the back of a closet under some hockey gear that she was bound to get round to snooping through sooner or later. How dare he not love her! She wanted a divorce, but she wanted him to regret it, she wanted him to hate every moment of it. She wanted, desperately and deeply, to prove to him that she’d made the mistake in marrying him and not the other way round. And now this, betrayal at a fundamental level.
The doorbell rang, so she bent down and took the top magazine out of the box and then marched down the hall. She threw the door open and thrust the magazine at the shadow on the doorstep.
“And what do you make of this?” she demanded.
There was a pause as the figure took the magazine and looked at the cover.
“Could you turn the porch light on please?” said a familiar voice.
She turned it on, and started slightly when she realised that the Pastor was stood there holding the magazine.
“Well,” he said coolly, “it appears to be pornography. According to the address label it belongs to Cliff, which kind of makes me wonder why you have it and why you’re offering it to me.”
“Cliff?” Estelle looked blank.
“Your neighbour,” prompted the Pastor, a gentle smile spreading over his youthful features. Estelle harboured an irrational fear that the Pastor was so young that he would be easily-polluted by the world. “You were telling me last week that he’d asked you to look after some boxes for him while his children were over.”
“Oh crap,” said Estelle with feeling. “Buggeration.”
“Those are not Christian words,” said the Pastor. “However, I’m a little distracted at the moment, so I’ll let that pass.”
Estelle frowned, and then another shape stepped out from behind the pastor; a thin, emaciated waif-life shape with spindly legs and arms like a spider’s legs. They had too many joints and kept bending and flexing, and they were holding something that looked gun-shaped.