Chapter 5

For a long time nothing happened.

There was a long, overpowering and oppressive silence in the pub. A few muffled conversations were taking place but, generally, few people spoke. At twenty-past eleven Ray Mercer cleared his throat and banged a glass on the bar to attract the attention of his customers. Most people didn't react. One or two glanced up at him to see what the disturbance was before turning back to face the television set again.

'Ladies and gents,' Ray shouted, seemingly unconcerned at the lack of attention being paid to him. 'I don't know about the rest of you, but I think we need to keep drinking tonight. To hell with the law, we're going for a late one. We're staying open.'

Had Ray made that announcement on any other night his words would have earned him a round of applause and a standing ovation at the very least. Tonight, however, the reaction of his customers was unusually muted and subdued. A steady stream of drinkers continued to make their way quietly to the bar. The television and the ringing of Ray's till were the loudest sounds to be heard.

And still the two alien ships hung motionless over the ocean.

We had amassed a vast collection of empty glasses on our small table and I was alarmed to see just how much drink we had managed to knock back in our extended evening session. I felt fine - completely sober in fact - and that alarmed me too. The alcohol I'd drunk hadn't had its normal numbing effect on my brain. What was happening out to sea was keeping everyone's emotions firmly in check and our feet on the ground.

The next time anyone spoke (other than when they fetched another round of drinks or disappeared off to the toilet) it was well past midnight. Without any of us noticing Friday night had silently disappeared and become Saturday morning.

'Shit!' James yelled. He had noticed me checking the time and had looked at his own watch. 'Christ, have any of you seen the time? Bloody hell, Steph'll have my balls if I don't get back...'

'What?' Siobhan mumbled, half-listening. Like just about everyone else she was still watching the television screen.

'I've got to go,' he said anxiously. 'Jesus, I'm in trouble now...'

'She'll understand,' Robert yawned. 'Just tell her you were watching the television and you got engrossed.'

'Do you really think she'll buy that?'

Rob shrugged his shoulders.

'Why not? She's probably sat there at home watching it herself.'

'No,' James whined, 'she's going to go ballistic. I can't tell her I've been watching telly, can I? Christ, we've got three bloody tellies at home. She'll want to know why I didn't go back and watch one of those, won't she?'

'All right then,' Siobhan sighed. 'Why don't you just go back now and...' She suddenly stopped speaking. I looked up from my pint to see that something was finally happening on the television screen.

The smaller alien ship (which I'd decided was a shuttle craft of sorts) hadn't moved since it had first drifted down from the belly of the mother ship. Now, without any apparent warning, it had silently raised itself slightly higher into the turbulent air and was being illuminated by the brightest, most brilliant light imaginable. Even more intense than the blinding light which had shone from the other ship's engines, it flooded the entire scene and it was almost as if the sun had suddenly reappeared in the dark night sky. This new light, however, came from deep within the bowels of the massive ship hovering above. As I stared at the shuttle on the screen a small, rectangular opening appeared in its roof. My tired eyes immediately became bright and focussed again.

'I don't believe this...' James said under his breath, instantly forgetting about going home.

A lone figure silently emerged from the shuttle craft. Lifted up into the air by some kind of graceful hovering platform, the figure remained completely motionless until its feet were clear of its ship. It then stepped off the platform and out onto the hull of the vessel.

The first alien that I (or anyone else for that matter) had ever seen was an unnerving and yet strangely exciting and inspiring sight to behold. It stood somewhere between six and seven feet tall (although the distance made it difficult to be certain about the size) and I decided that it was probably male (if there was such a thing as a male or female alien). There was something about its appearance and the way it carried itself which led me to think that way. The creature had smooth, dark pink skin and it looked, to all intents and purposes, as if it had spent too long basking unprotected under the strong summer sun. Its head was unusually disproportionate and looked almost too heavy and cumbersome to be supported upon such a gaunt and wiry frame. There was a light covering of greasy grey - almost silver - hair on top of its head which clung to its skin and which was swept back away from the temples. Dressed in a formal uniform which seemed to be made of a light, cotton-like material, the alien stood proud and motionless for the longest thirty seconds in history.

What thoughts must have been running through its head as it stood there?

The creature seemed content to stand its ground with an almost military authority as it was scanned, scrutinised and inspected by the entire population of our planet.

The first official contact between our two species was about to be made.

'Shit,' Robert whispered. 'Is that what I think it is? Is that thing really an alien?'

'Well what else could it be?' I mumbled with my mouth still hanging open in awe. 'A fucking rabbit?!'

In the hours since the ship had first appeared I had just about managed to come to terms with the implications of its unexpected arrival. Now that I was sitting watching live television pictures of an alien, however, my ability to accept what was happening was suddenly questioned. The nervous disorientation I had felt earlier returned. Everything was back to square one again.

'What do they want?' Rob asked. He had an irritating habit of asking pointless questions that no-one could answer at just the wrong time.

'Bloody hell,' I snapped, irritated, 'how the hell should I know?'

The alien on the screen continued to stand its ground as the fevered activity in the surrounding seas became even more frenzied and intense. Very slowly it seemed to take a long, deep breath and then tilted its obtuse head back on its slight shoulders until it was looking straight up towards the source of the brilliant white light that continued to pour down from the bowels of the mothership hovering high above. The television picture suddenly changed to a close-up of the creature taken from a nearby boat. I was taken aback by the obvious similarities to a human face. Other than an unusually pronounced forehead (which gave the alien a slightly Neanderthal appearance - totally unjustified considering the obvious technical expertise of the species) the basic facial elements were much the same as our own. It had a wide, thin-lipped mouth, a small button nose, two ears (which were flat and smooth and tilted back at a more acute angle than a human's) and a pair of sharp, crystal-blue eyes.

The alien looked back down from the mothership, took another deep breath of salty sea air (was it nervous?) and then turned to its right where a group of heavily armed soldiers waited on the deck of a small military boat. The shuttle drifted down lower until it was almost touching the waves. The creature then held its arms out wide to indicate, perhaps, that it had nothing to hide, and then carefully walked down the sloping hull of its ship. It stepped out onto the boat which then, in a matter of a few short seconds, disappeared away into the night.

The light from the mothership faded into darkness.

Once again the entire pub was silent.

Another few seconds (which felt like minutes) passed before anyone did or said anything else. Ray Mercer rang the bell for last orders.

'Right then, ladies and gents. Let's have those glasses now please.'

Obediently and without any complaints the pub slowly emptied.

'Ready?' I asked Siobhan. She nodded, yawned and reached out for me.

'I'm tired,' she sighed as she wrapped her arms around my neck.

It was twenty-past one. We walked back home together in silent disbelief.


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