When humans finally made contact with alien life, it wasn’t at all what had been advertised. For decades, possibly centuries, we had speculated little green men touching down on the Earth’s surface with flashing lights and resonating sounds. The usual tropes played out in novels, comics, radio programs, movies, and every other storytelling medium again and again. But when an unidentified flying object was detected hovering over one of Earth’s major cities, possibly the most talked about aspect of the incredible event was that it wasn’t happening in New York City’s Central Park.
After all, that was what Hollywood told us would happen.
No, the sphere, estimated at 6 foot in diameter, was levitating, perfectly still, high above Chicago’s Buckingham Fountain. Tourists, joggers, and the like began noticing it on a sunny afternoon; taking pictures and theorizing what it could be. It didn’t take long for Homeland Security to show up and set about clearing everyone from the area. Soon followed trucks filled with military personnel, along with heavy artillery and plenty of ammunition. A perimeter was established, and hundreds of eyeballs and gun barrels were pointed at it. Even the coast guard was positioned not far from the shores of Lake Michigan; presumably in case the sphere began to drown.
That’s when the waiting began.
They kept aim at the sphere well into the night as more military arrived. They set up tents nearby, and packed them with technology capable of recording and analyzing anything that might happen. Those on the front lines of the standoff were switched out with fresh eyes and fresh trigger fingers, so that the tired ones could get some food and sleep.
The world was at a standstill, even though the public was being kept in the dark. Reporters and news crews were kept at bay behind a perimeter 2 miles from the event site. That did not stop the circulation of blurry pictures while wild theories and hot takes were discussed at length.
The fact was, no one had a clue what was happening. The best minds were brought in and shown everything from infrared scans to x-ray scans, but there was no piece of equipment on Earth that could detect what the sphere was made of, how it was levitating, or if it held something inside. The uncertainty surrounding the situation caused a panic. Some of the higher-level military personnel wanted to open fire on it. Religious fanatics either rejoiced its arrival or considered the world doomed; many committing suicide.
Three days went by with mass hysteria hanging in the air, days that, otherwise, were very pleasant. They were sunny with no clouds, and wonderfully warm.
And so, the waiting continued.
On the fourth day, an altostratus cloud system rolled in, causing overcast skies. It was on this day that the sphere began its descent to Earth. Alarms went off in the tents, world leaders were informed, and chambers were loaded. It took exactly 22 minutes for the sphere to touch down in an open area next to the fountain. The military were ordered to hold, don’t fire.
The sphere looked to be resting lightly, its base delicately touching the ground without sinking into the dirt. An opening seemed to appear out of nowhere on its top. From there, it spiraled down and opened as something poured out of it; a substance that looked to be nothing more than water. The sphere continued its mechanical-looking bloom until the top half had folded into the lower, leaving a hemisphere with a puddle of water resting static underneath.
Several minutes went by, but everyone was fed up with waiting. A highly decorated member of the military, who had been one of the first on site, volunteered to get a closer look. Captain Reid had shown bravery in battle time and again. He had been awarded the Silver Star for his role in a rescue mission that left his unit stranded overnight under heavy fire. Everyone caught in the ambush survived; he had been a darling of his superior officers ever since.
Captain Reid suited up with a bulletproof vest and Kevlar padding, and wrapped it all up in a HAZMAT suit. He grabbed his rifle and began his extremely slow-paced walk out into the clearing. He had a headset in his helmet, giving constant updates. His vitals were fine, there was nothing out of the ordinary detected in the air; he crept on.
When he finally came upon the puddle, he reported that it still gave the impression of water. He couldn’t see any additional reflectiveness to it, there was nothing floating in it to the naked eye. The only thing of note was that it didn’t look to be seeping into the dirt below. It was resting lightly on top, just like the hemisphere.
He knelt down to get a closer look at the container of the mysterious liquid. There were no markings, it was a matte grey color, and was perfectly smooth. Reid shuffled around on his hands and knees to search for a compartment of any kind, but there was nothing, not even a seam to found.
It was when he stood to look back at his superiors and shrug that Captain Reid made his mistake. When he got to his feet, the toe of his boot slipped into the liquid. At first, it looked like something was crawling up his leg, but those who witnessed it said it was as if he was turning into the fluid himself. The change rippled its way up his leg and expanded across his torso. He was screaming from help, but the orders remained clear; hold, don’t fire. He continued begging for someone to come to him until the transformation rose above his mouth. He was silent but communicated one last moment of horror with his eyes. They, too, were consumed, and what was left appeared like a man made of water. He was translucent, and his movements caused small ripples on the surface.
What was left of Captain Reid held his hands up as if he was looking at them, and then lowered them while his head rotated side to side. Reports say that he made a turn toward the hemisphere. Many have questioned what that motion could have meant or what he might have been doing, but we’ll never know.
A crack rang out and hung in the air. Time slowed to a crawl. A single shot from an Mk 17, a standard-issue rifle, was fired and pierced what was previously Captain Reid’s shoulder. In an instant, the mass of liquid burst and splashed to the ground. There was no trace of Captain Reid left behind; only water.
Any attempt to find out who fired the round was haphazard at best. There were no interrogations done, no examinations of the weapons that were being used that day. The presence of an alien substance and the threat that it might pose was still looming, and took priority. Walls were built around the area. No one was to go near the liquid until they could figure out what it was or how to go about moving it without being transformed.
Days turned into weeks. The world needed to move on. Leaders urged the people to go about their daily lives, and they did. No one could definitively answer any of the questions about where the sphere came from or what its liquid cargo was. Since it had been so long and the liquid, along with the hemisphere, had not budged, they poured a cement tomb and reinforced steel all around it; they stuck a little plaque in memory of Captain Reid on the side.
He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously. The President of the United States presented the award to his widow and daughter. Pretty soon, people forgot all about the event. Years went by and it became nothing more than a history class lesson, a thing that happened to other people at another time. Eventually, a big budget movie was made about it, adding a fictional love story to the, otherwise, largely correct telling. As far as most people were concerned, the movie adaptation was all they needed to know about it.
But not everybody...