Last time… AT#5 was released early due to a production issue. We now return you to our regularly scheduled program…
ATOMIC TALES #4 – The UFO You Know
I dove to the ground, and Agent Two did the same, both of us quickly flattening against the leaves and dry grass just outside the Air Force base’s perimeter. The hair on the back of my neck bristled, and a wave of heat washed over us as the glowing object zoomed past overhead.
“Hell’s bells! What was that?!” Agent Two, also known as Buster “Ace” Freeman, asked.
“Damned if I know,” I replied as the two of us scrambled to our feet. The glowing disc-shaped object had angled right for us as we were getting the lay of the land. It moved too fast to get a good estimate of its size before we hit the deck.
“So, not giant fireflies this time,” Two said.
“Probably not.” The greenish Unidentified Flying Object streaked over the nearby forest. Fortunately, a firebreak ran through those woods. “C’mon! Let’s see if we can catch it!”
Agent Two and I dashed for the Bureau Studebaker, and Ace took the wheel.
The starter sputtered and refused to catch.
“Son of a…” Ace cursed, getting back out of the car. “Ray, try to start it when I say.”
I slid across the Studebaker’s bench seat to the driver’s side. Ace is the best mechanic in the agency; if anyone could get this car started, it was him.
He popped the hood and peered inside, his nimble hands flying over several parts of the engine, checking connections. “I don’t see anything. Try it again.”
Rrr… Click! Click! Click!
“Nothing!” I frowned as the UFO vanished behind the treeline. “Forget it, Ace, it’s gone.”
He slammed the hood shut. “Shoot! I guess we’re hoofing it to the base, then.”
Suddenly, the Champion’s six cylinders roared to life.
I slid back to the passenger side. “What the…?”
Ace took the wheel again, looking frustrated. “Just like the foo fighters back in the war. Electronics went crazy ’round them.”
I nodded. “At least we don’t have to walk to base command.”
Green Point Air Force Base looked almost deserted after we checked in at the gate. As we pulled up to the compound, a tall middle-aged man in a captain’s uniform hurried out of the base office.
Two and I got out of the Studebaker to greet him.
“Captain ‘Kawch,’ I assume,” I said.
“It’s spelled ‘kawch,’ but it’s pronounced ‘cook,’” Captain Koch replied, shaking hands with both of us. “You from the US Science Bureau?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m Agent One, and this is Agent Two.”
“Always nice to meet a fellow Air Force man,” Two added.
Koch nodded appreciatively. “Tuskegee?”
“Yeah,” Two affirmed. “Saw some action in the Pacific, too.”
“Glad to have you both here, “ Koch said. “Can you believe this?”
He indicated the nearly empty complex surrounding us. Only a few uniformed airmen hustled between the standard military-issue buildings, and a single jeep sat alone and empty by the mess hall.
“During war time, we had nearly forty officers here and over a thousand military personnel and trainees, plus civilians,” Koch continued. “Now… Less than one hundred, total. Back then, we’d have been able to handle this flap ourselves—though I’m grateful to have you.”
“Thanks,” I said. “We have some experience in this area.”
“I hope so,” Koch replied. “We’ve been seeing these things for weeks now, off and on. Project Blue Book sent some boys in last week. They didn’t find diddly. Said it was ‘swamp gas.’ Over-educated idiots. Was it swamp gas that set off our radar? Was it swamp gas that caused a power outage and stalled our vehicles?”
“Not likely,” Agent Two agreed.
“And it wasn’t swamp gas that buzzed us when we stopped to get the lay of the land,” I added.
“You saw something?” Koch asked. “Our tower had a brief hit on radar, but nobody got a visual.”
“Went northwest, over the woods,” I told him.
Koch rubbed his stubbly chin. I judged that he was one of those guys who could shave twice a day and still have a five o’clock shadow. “Yeah. That makes sense. We had a fence guard go AWOL out that way last night after somebody reported lights. Haven’t been able to turn him up since. Those woods beyond the fence have gotten pretty thick since the war.”
“Mind if we give the whole shebang another look?” I asked.
Koch smiled. “Knock yourselves out. I barely have enough personnel to fill a bucket, never mind chasing down every goldbrick out pitching woo to some local girl. This base is shutting down, you know. Everything’s moving to Wright-Patterson.”
“The brass decided this isn’t a good site to convert to nuclear defense?” Two asked.
Koch’s eyes narrowed. “That’s supposed to be classified.”
“We’ve both got top clearance,” I assured him. “I believe the Bureau mentioned that when they said we’d be dropping by.”
“Slipped my mind,” he admitted. “Science Bureau… There’s an agency for everything, nowadays. There’ll be a science fiction bureau, next thing you know.”
He sighed before continuing. “You guys look around as much as you need. Let me know if you find more than those Blue Book jokers did. And if you turn up that gold-bricking Corporal Kyser… Take him to the MPs, do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars.”
“Sure thing,” I said. “You mind if we borrow one of your jeeps? I’m not sure our Studebaker can handle some of the terrain around the perimeter.”
“No problem,” Koch replied. “C’mon in the office and get the keys. You guys want a Grape Nehi or something…?”
Forty-five minutes later, Agent Two and I had maneuvered the jeep into the forest outside the base perimeter, near where we last saw the UFO. But we’d also reached a patch where even the jeep couldn’t squeeze between the trees.
“Admit it,” Two said as we hopped out, “you requisitioned this jeep just so you wouldn’t wreck another car.”
I groaned. “Will I never live that down?”
“Not so long as there are mouths at the Bureau to tell the tale,” he replied with a laugh.
“Well, this jeep isn’t wrecked yet.” I checked my compass. “I think the UFO kept going northwest from here.”
Ace frowned. “Your compass must be busted. Check the sun. You’re headed almost due west.”
“You’re right. Check yours.”
“Damn. Mine’s off, too. And my watch has stopped—magnetized. Which means…”
“If we follow our compass deviations, we should hit what’s causing these disturbances,” I concluded.
“My bet’s on that foo fighter.”
“Yeah. Maybe.” I drew my pistol, and Ace did, too. “Keep your eyes peeled.”
Together, we moved into the woods, quickly but cautiously. The midwestern summer afternoon was warm, but not too humid; we were lucky in that respect. The trees weren’t huge, but the groundcover was fairly thick with ferns and bracken. The smell of wild greenery and the sounds of insects, birds, and even a frog or two filled the air.
Then suddenly, it got quiet.
Ace glanced at me and pointed. “Check it out.”
Both his finger and my compass needle indicated the same direction.
Ahead, a vague, yellow-green glow leaked through the foliage as the late-afternoon sun cast long, dark shadows through the forest.
“Reflected sunlight?” I ventured.
Two shook his head and tapped his ear with his index finger.
I heard it now, too—a vague humming, not insects, more like electricity coursing through power lines.
We signaled each other to close in, both keeping our weapons drawn. He went right; I went left.
The rough ground made staying silent hard, but as the shadows around us deepened, the glow resolved into the same object that had buzzed us earlier.
The forest opened up, and there it sat—some weird, glowing… thing, hovering two yards above the clearing.
The intense yellow-green glow made the UFO hard to look at, but the shape was like a football, or maybe a saucer. The air stank of ozone, and the hair on my arms, the back of my neck, and even crew cut stood on end.
That plus a burst of intuition caused me to do something an agent is never supposed to do: I dropped my gun.
A beam of light streaked out of the craft and hit my weapon as it tumbled to the ground.
Pow! Pow! Pow!
To my right, Agent Two opened fire, likely thinking I was under attack.
The whole world vanished in a flash of brilliant light, and I suddenly found myself sitting on my keister on the forest floor.
“Agent One, you okay?” Ace called to me. He’d been knocked down as well.
“Yeah,” I replied. “What happened? Did it zip into space or just vanish?”
He shook his head as we rose and staggered toward each other. “Dunno. Could have been some kind of electrical phenomena that discharged into the ground through our weapons. I thought it was attacking.”
“Thanks for jumping to my defense.”
I retrieved my pistol from the brush nearby. Weirdly, it was stone cold but melted—useless. I holstered it anyway.
All the plants in the clearing had been flattened, like they’d been run over by a steam roller. A low moaning came from the forest across from us.
We hurried that way and found a twenty-something soldier lying on his back near the edge of the woods.
“Corporal Kyser, I presume,” I said, reading the name badge on his uniform.
The guy nodded and rubbed the back of his skull.
“Are you okay?” Two asked, helping him up.
“Yeah,” Kyser replied. “Just a crick in my neck.” He peered through the trees at the sun, just hitting the horizon. “Jeeze, have I been out all night?”
“Longer than that,” I told him. “It’s sunset. You’ve been missing for most of a day. What happened?”
Kyser shook his head. “It was the UFO, you know? I was following it, and I guess it musta knocked me cold.” He rubbed his neck again.
“We better get you back to base,” Two suggested. “I’m sure the docs will want to look you over.”
Two and I supported him as we trudged back toward the jeep.
Agent Two grinned at me as we went. “Well, you lost a weapon this time out, Agent One, but least you didn’t wreck any cars.”
What could I do but laugh?
“Hey, nobody’s perfect.”
ABOUT THE UFO YOU KNOW
As you remember last time, Agent One was heading to a new assignment with Agent Two, who turns out to be “Ace” Freeman—a WWII Tuskegee Airmen flyer, and second only to our main hero in agent seniority at the U.S. Science Bureau.
This story, with its echoes of the 1980s’ Rendlesham UFO incident, was probably the second tale I wrote notes for in my commonplace book.
As I developed Atomic Tales, though, I realized that I needed to set the stage a bit more for the series, before introducing this (apparently) non-bug menace.
Two more of the earliest ideas I sketched out for the run have also had to be shuffled in the continuity for similar reasons. Story two became tale number four (this one), and the previous stories three, and four are now… Who knows what?
It’s a different thing to release random ’50s sci-fi tales over a course of years—which had been the original plan—as opposed to releasing them on a monthly schedule. In this new scheme, I couldn’t just write these episodes haphazardly and then stitch them together later. They had to work in a coherent arc right from the beginning.
Honestly, I think that doing it this way, working monthly with Christopher R. Mihm, is making Atomic Tales a better series than if I’d written it on my own, freeform schedule.
Of course, you—the readers and listeners—get to be the final judge.
And the Master Plan continues to mutate as I pull all the pieces together.
Plus, there are a lot of stories still to tell…
You can listen to this story produced by Christopher R. Mihm from SaintEuphoria.com!
TM & © 2021 Stephen D. Sullivan