Max and Cora helped Mel up and did their best to explain what had happened, while Cam put his clothes back on. The four bedraggled figures stood and looked at each other.
"Hey," said Cam, while trying to dislodge some dirt from an ear by whacking the other side of his head, "do you think this qualifies?"
The other three processed this for a while, but—as was not infrequently the case with statements made by Cam—found that further clarification was required.
"Huh?" inquired Mel. "Qualifies as what?"
"As something different," replied Cam. "Max said we should go on a camping trip because we needed to get away from the coffee shop and try something different. Does this qualify as different?"
Max blinked. "Uh—I was kind of thinking more along the toasting marshmallows and relaxing around the campfire line, rather than getting blown up by a fireball from space. But yes, I would say this definitely qualifies. Anyway, what do we do now?"
"I don't know about you lot," replied Mel, setting off towards the smoking crater on the edge of the clearing, "but I'm going meteor hunting."
"Meteorite," corrected Cam. "Meteors burn up in the atmosphere. If they hit the Earth, then they're meteorites."
Mel smiled a sweet yet strangely disturbing smile. "Oh Cameron honey, you know how much I love it when you correct me. Particularly after being sleep-deprived, blown up and buried alive. Keep it up and something else will be hitting the Earth." The smile vanished. "Only he might not survive." She turned and stomped off in the direction of the crater.
Max slapped Cam on the back. "Dude, you are one slow learner. Gender relations 101. Don't correct cranky women." He watched Mel walk away, until he judged she was safely out of earshot. "Especially that one."
Cam grimaced. "You've gotta suffer for real love, mate." He shook his head. "Doesn't get any realer than with Mel. Come on, let's go check out the damage."
They had only taken a few steps before Mel, who had just reached the lip of the crater, cried out, "Guys, get over here! This is so weird."
Max wandered over to the inverted wreck that had once been his car. One of the rear tyres was spinning slowly, and a trickle of smoke rose from the underside. "Weird is one word for it." He reached out and gently stopped the tyre. "My poor baby."
Cam made suitably sympathetic noises, while looking around the vicinity of the crater. "Well, at least you know where your car is. I can't see mine anywhere."
Puzzled, Max looked around as well. "Where could it be? That was a pretty big blast, but surely it wasn't car-disintegrating big."
Meanwhile, Cora had joined Mel at the edge of the crater. "Will you two stop obsessing about your cars, and come and look at this?"
"What I'm actually obsessing about," replied Max, "is how we're going to get home. But since you insist—fine, I'll come and look in the hole in the ground."
He and Cam joined the girls and they all peered into the crater, at the bottom of which, amidst smoking rubble, lay an orange, glowing orb.
"Wow," breathed Cam. "An actual, real-life meteorite. Must be super-hot, from its passage through the atmosphere. How long do you reckon it'll take to cool down? If I can't take my car home, maybe I can take that instead." He started to edge down the side of the crater. "I'll see if I can get a closer look."
"Hold it right there, Indiana Jones," snapped Mel. "I don't think that's your ordinary, everyday, garden-variety meteorite."
Almost as if it had heard her, a vertical band of red light emerged from the glowing orb and rapidly swept around the circumference of the crater. It made two circuits and then paused at the group's feet, before changing its orientation to horizontal, sweeping up over them and then back down again, before winking out.
Mel glared at Cam. "See? It did the same thing a minute ago, except with a green light."
There was a silent pause. "Um," said Cora. "Is it just me, or does it kind of feel like we just got scanned?"
Another pause. Finally Max replied. "It does kind of feel that way." They all took a step back. "Cam, I realise you're probably the expert of this outfit, given you know your meteors from your meteoroids—"
Max sighed. "Whatever. Either way, I'm guessing you'll back me up in my contention that emitting strange lights and scanning people is not typical space-rock behaviour?"
Without taking his eyes off the crater, Cam took another step backwards. "Mate, you won the science award at school, not me. My meteor/meteorite knowledge come from when Mr Cleeton yelled at me in science class, for getting them mixed up. But I'm happy to confirm that some very strange shit is going down." He frowned. "What's that whistling sound?"
There was indeed a disturbingly familiar whistling sound, gradually rising in volume. The group exchanged glances. As realisation dawned—again—they all looked up.
"Surely statistically there's no chance two meteorites could hit the same place, on the same night?" asked Max, squinting up at the rapidly growing fireball overhead. "Right guys?"
"Statistically, you're probably right," replied Cam. "But the meteorites don't seem to know that. Everybody down!"
Rapidly becoming experts on meteorite-survival strategies, the four bedraggled figures once again hit the dirt, arms over their heads and braced for impact.
The whistling grew louder.
The whistling grew even louder.
They waited some more.
The whistling stopped. There was silence.
Slowly, the four baristas raised their heads.
"What the hell just happened?" demanded Mel, wiping dirt off her face.
"Maybe it burned up before it could hit," replied Cora, doubtfully.
"Or maybe," said Max, climbing to his feet and pointing back towards where their campsite had been. "It did hit. Just not very hard. Or maybe 'land' would be a better word."
The remainder of the group got to their feet, and turned to look in the direction he was pointing. Parked by the side of the river, steaming gently in the moonlight, was a spaceship. None of them were quite sure how exactly they knew it was a spaceship, but nevertheless they were all completely sure that that's what it was. It was egg-shaped. It gleamed. It had fins. And it had a door that opened, a ramp that extended and a figure in a gleaming spacesuit that walked out. Plus, it had fallen out of the sky. All very spaceshippy.
The figure walked towards them. Although more or less humanoid in shape, it was clearly alien. The head was too long, the body too barrel-chested, and the legs had too many joints. Then, there was the tail.
"That's an alien," hissed Max to Cora, as the figure approached. "What do we say to it? What should be the first words ever spoken by an earthling, to a being from another planet? Should we greet them? Tell them we mean them no harm? Offer to guide them to civilisation? Hum some Bach? Quote some Shakespeare? We'll never have this opportunity to make a good first impression again. What will we say?"
"Holy batshit!" yelled Mel. "That's a freaking alien!"
Max sighed. "So much for Shakespeare."
YOU ARE READING
The Four Baristas of the ApocalypseScience Fiction
In the Earth's darkest hour, unexpected heroes are stirring. Stirring their coffee, that is. When aliens invade, four baristas on a camping trip hardly seem the most likely saviours of the world. But thanks to a hologram with no fashion sense, some...