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A red truck bumped over the dry, cracked earth. The valley was hot. The only living things for miles, aside from the man, were cacti and scorpions. A cloud of dust kicked up by the wheels of the truck rose high into the clear sky.
Then the truck began to slow and its motor finally sputtered to a stop next to a dead, twisted tree. The man who had been driving got out and slammed the door shut. He walked around to the back, opened the bed of the truck, and reached down to pick up a large metal box from the ground. It was much heavier than it looked, but the man managed to wrestle it into the back. Before he made his way back into the driver’s seat, he gave the strange box one final look. Then he began the trip back across the valley.
This time, the sky was dark and the valley was cool. The blades of three distant helicopters made a low hum that echoed across the dirt. Wide beams of light shone from their bellies.
The helicopters slowed as they approached the dead, twisted tree. Then, as the three spotlights illuminated the spot where the man had stood, they stopped to hover. Inside, radios crackled. Then all three helicopters pulled up and into the sky, their lights tracing the dusty tire tracks below.
The man’s house was small but heavily furnished. The first room from the entrance was a cozy living room, with three arm chairs, a stone fireplace, fleece blankets and a bookcase. A low table was piled high with papers.
Then there was his bedroom, a guest room, a bathroom, a kitchen and, behind the kitchen, a small room where the man was working. A waist-high desk ran around three sides of the room, cluttered with computers, wires and books. The floor was tile, most of it hidden by a mess of tools, electronics, and more books. In the center of the room was the box.
The box was a perfect cube, made of a bluish metal which looked unmarked and undamaged, which was remarkable considering that the man had tracked its fall through the atmosphere. The man was examining the one unusual side, the one with a circle of black in its center and a series of symbols underneath. The circle looked like the only way into the center of the cube and, after trying a small hammer and then power tools, the man picked up his laser cutter.
The laser beam hit the circle and then suddenly the box changed. The black circle, which had been the top of a black cylinder, was now about 3 inches from the surface of the cube. A small cloud of steam rose from the seam between the two. The man smiled with excitement.
Then the room was filled by a hissing static noise, and the man clamped his hands over his ears. The laser cutter clattered to the floor. The box became louder, and even through the flesh of his hands the man could hear it changing, no longer just random static but a series of sounds, strange sounds which the man did not recognize. Then the noise stopped. Slowly the man pried his hands off his ears, which were still ringing. As his heart-rate steadied, a bright green light shot out of the black circle. The man looked up at his ceiling tiles.
Images, designs, plans, numbers and symbols played across the ceiling like a stock ticker. There were maps, machines, diagrams, and things which the man did not, and could not, identify. The light reflected off the mans glasses as his eyes widened.
Then there was a knock on the door. The man’s heart nearly stopped.
“We’d like to talk to you” came the voice from behind the door.
He pushed the black cylinder into the cube again, sliding it noiselessly until the cube looked the same as he had found it. Then he picked it up, made his way to the kitchen, and ran out the back door. He heard another knock at the door as his foot hit the dirt. The metal door slammed shut behind him. The moon illuminated the desert. He had not expected anyone to find him so soon.
The metal cube knocked against his chest as he ran. His breath was loud in his ears and his shirt was soaked with sweat already. But the man was running into the open. His breathing became more labored. He felt the bullet rip into his leg before he heard it. The cube tumbled from his arms and rolled to a stop in the dirt. Another bullet slammed into the man’s head and his heart stopped.
Soon the three men, who had lied and were in fact much more important than police, reached the body and the cube. They passed the body without hesitation and found the box, moonlight glinting off its polished surface. The shortest one reached down to pick it up, spinning it in his hands until the small black circle and the symbols below faced him. His eyes flicked across the letters and a small smile flitted across his face. “It’s from earth,” he announced.
The three men made their way back to the car.