The Secret of Area X
When Cindy Schroeder was a child, she went on a camping trip with her parents and saw a trio of strange moving lights in the sky. The lights did not move randomly but rather in formation as though following a set course. They hovered briefly over a large reservoir and then continued their journey into the night. Naturally, Cindy told her parents about the strange lights, but they attached no importance to them.
"You probably saw helicopters," her father said.
"But they made no sound," Cindy protested.
"Well, remote-controlled model airplanes then or weather balloons. Why, I've heard that some gases give off strange lights at night."
"I think they were flying saucers."
Mr. Schroeder laughed. "Flying saucers? You've been reading your brother's comic books again, haven't you? Your mother and I told you not to. Those comics always get your imagination going."
"It wasn't my imagination. I really did see lights above the reservoir."
Her mother, who had been getting ready for bed, said, "Enough of this flying saucer nonsense. It's getting late, dear. Get into your sleeping bag and go to sleep."
Cindy did as she was told. She never again spoke to her parents of the strange lights above the reservoir. What good would it do? Their minds were closed to matters of the unexplained, but from that night on, the young girl's curiosity had been awakened.
When she was a teenager, Cindy discovered UFO Magazine and learned that others had seen strange lights in the sky too. Some men and women even told of being taken aboard alien aircraft against their will and of being forced to undergo physical examinations before being returned to terra firma. Even at a young, impressionable age, Cindy knew not to believe everything she read. She had seen tabloid newspaper headlines about aliens in the White House, photographs of Big Foot and stories of Christ sightings in the New York subways. The world was full of tall tales and crazy people, she reasoned, but surely not all stories of UFO sightings were the result of overworked imaginations or too much Jack Daniels. Hadn't she seen those strange lights with her own eyes?
Her search for answers was a difficult one. Neither her high school science classes nor the books in the Puritan Falls Public Library added to the knowledge she'd gained from UFO Magazine, which wasn't much. Most of the books that she read discounted the existence of extraterrestrial beings, claiming that studies of UFO sightings were a complete waste of time since such sightings were nothing more than delusions or hoaxes.
It was while she was in her senior year at the university that Cindy first heard stories about what was to become known as Area X. According to Uncle Sam, the Arizona Air Force base served as a testing and development facility for military aircraft. Rumor had it, however, that the extraordinarily high security conditions at the base were devised to protect not military intelligence but a recovered alien spacecraft. There were even some accounts that claimed the bodies of extraterrestrial beings had been recovered in the spaceship and brought to Area X for study. These stories were further embellished by the citizens of nearby Darwin, who claimed to have seen living aliens walking the streets of their tiny Arizona town.
Since her thirst for knowledge of UFOs had yet to be slaked, Cindy decided to join the Air Force. After serving at various bases around the world for sixteen years, she finally got the post she'd longed for: the USAF development and testing facility located outside Darwin, Arizona.
* * *
When she passed the guard at the gate and at last entered the base nicknamed Area X by UFO enthusiasts, Cindy was somewhat disappointed. While she hadn't expected to see signs proclaiming ALIEN SPACESHIP THIS WAY, she had expected to find an air of secrecy about the place. There was none, however. Aside from the heavy security, Area X was no different from other bases to which she had been assigned.
"Major Schroeder?" called a voice, thick with a North Carolina drawl. "I'm Lieutenant Meissner. Welcome to the base."
"Thanks. I'm glad to be here. I've been curious about this place for some time now."
The lieutenant laughed. "Thought you'd see little green men with large almond-shaped eyes running around here, did you?"
"No, but I didn't expect Area X to be so--normal."
"You sound disappointed."
"I am, a little."
Cindy did not elaborate. She did not want word to spread through the base that the new major was one of those kooks who believed in flying saucers and men from Mars.
As the weeks passed, Cindy settled into the routine of her new duties. If Area X had fallen way short of her expectations, at least the assignment was one of the best she'd ever had.
It wasn't until four months after Cindy arrived in Arizona that she left the base and went into Darwin. From the moment she got out of her car, she could feel the eyes of passersby upon her. There were no welcoming smiles or no friendly overtures, just eyes that seemed to bore into her as though she were a new breed of bacteria on a microscope slide.
"Hello," Cindy said cheerfully to an old woman who worked at the town bakery.
The woman frowned and stared at her through narrowed eyes. "Are you one of them?" she asked.
"Them?" Cindy echoed.
"One of them from that Air Force base," the old woman explained.
"Yes, I am. I'm Major Cindy Schroeder. I've been at the base for the past four months."
"Where are you from, originally?"
The old woman seemed to be highly suspicious of Cindy. Maybe she thinks I'm an alien, Cindy thought, trying to suppress a smile.
"I'm from Puritan Falls--that's in Massachusetts, not too far from Boston."
That information, coupled with Cindy's thick Yankee accent, seemed to satisfy the old woman somewhat. "What can I get for you, miss?" she asked politely.
"I'd like a dozen donuts, please: six Bavarian cream and six jelly."
The old woman put the donuts in a box, she tied with the box with string and handed it to Cindy.
* * *
"Those people in Darwin are a strange lot," Cindy remarked with a laugh as she placed the box of donuts on the table in the officer's break room.
"Surely you've heard the stories about this base, seen the bizarre things they print in the tabloids."
It was the first time Colonel Nicholson, the base's commanding officer, alluded to the reputation of Area X.
"I've heard them, sir," she said, careful not to indicate whether or not she gave credence to the strange tales.
"The people of Darwin," the colonel continued, "are all convinced we're harboring aliens in one of our hangars. Isn't that ridiculous?"
Cindy's only response was a forced laugh.
"Aliens! You wouldn't believe such foolishness would you?" The smile on Nicholson's face seemed to mask a more serious note in his question.
Was this some kind of a test? Cindy wondered.
Colonel Nicholson put his coffee cup down on the table, turned toward Cindy and stared straight in her eyes. All traces of humor were gone. "Major Schroeder, what would you say if I told you a spaceship did land in the Mojave Desert not too far from here?"
Cindy's heart raced. Was the CO joking with her? She thought not. "Frankly, sir, I don't know what I'd say. I'm not sure I'd believe it without seeing the proof myself."
"Have you ever been out to hangar seventeen?"
"No sir. My duties don't take me to the rear hangars. Only those with the highest security clearance can see where the latest aircraft and weaponry are housed."
"True. This base is developing spacecraft that make the Stealth bombers seem like those planes piloted by the old World War I flying aces, but there are no prototypes in hangar seventeen. Would you like to see what is in there, Major?"
"I don't believe I'm cleared for...."
"Nonsense. I'm the Commanding Officer. I can clear anyone."
"Why, sir?" Cindy asked as they made their way to the rear hangars. "Why do you want to show me what's in hangar seventeen?"
"Because you're the only one on this base who doesn't know what's in there. We're a family here, Major. We're all dedicated to a common cause. I wanted to observe you for a few months before I let you in on our little secret."
When they arrived at hangar seventeen, the colonel punched a ten-digit security code into the computerized lock, and the two-inch steel door soundlessly slid open.
"After you," Nicholson said.
Cindy walked into the hangar and was awestruck at the sight of the spaceship that was "parked" inside. It was like no aircraft she had ever seen.
"This ship," Nicholson explained, "landed in the Mojave Desert, just a few miles from here, on November 1, 1954."
Cindy was astounded. "So all the tabloid stories were true. I can't believe it!"
She stared longingly at the ship, aching to go closer, to get a better look.
The colonel nodded his head. "You can go up to it. There's no danger of radiation."
"I'm amazed that a discovery of this magnitude could be kept secret for fifty years," Cindy remarked as she closely examined the alien spacecraft.
"Actually, it's quite easy to discredit stories about UFOs and ETs."
"There doesn't seem to be any damage to the ship."
"That's because there was no crash. The pilot made a controlled landing."
"Pilot? You mean this was a manned flight?"
"Yes, and the pilot and crew all survived."
Cindy felt faint. "Are they still...?"
"They're quite old now," Nicholson replied, "but they're still very much alive."
Cindy felt faint. Aliens from another planet, perhaps even another galaxy, were living on Earth.
"When I was a child, I saw strange lights in the sky, and I became a believer in UFOs."
"I know. It was in your file. In fact, it was your keen interest in the subject that led to your assignment to this base."
Cindy couldn't fathom what was going on at Area X, but she now knew that she was here for a reason.
Colonel Nicholson stood quietly in the shadows, closely watching Cindy inspect the ship.
"How many passengers could a ship like this...?"
The shock of what Cindy saw on the side of the aircraft confounded her. Painted on the strange metal alloy that covered the ship was the familiar emblem of the United States of America. She looked at Nicholson questioningly. "I don't understand, sir."
"In the year 2118 a nuclear war destroyed--or will destroy, depending on how you look at it--our planet. All that will remain of mankind will be this research ship and its crew of twelve men and women. Unable to return to their home, the crew blindly headed toward outer space. They had little hope of finding a habitable planet, but they agreed to die trying rather than give up in despair. I can't pretend to understand the physics of what happened, but the going theory is that time and space are interwoven. When this ship left our solar system and headed out into space, it must have traveled over highways that led to different time periods, and somehow it got off on an exit ramp that led to 1954."
"So it wasn't a ship of aliens that landed in the Mojave Desert, was it? They were Americans from the future."
"That's right, and that's why we guard the secret so closely. Imagine how people would react if they knew that in a little over a hundred years from now their world will be destroyed."
"Why me, though?" Cindy asked. "Why has my interest in UFOs led to my being assigned here?"
"Because you thought you saw a UFO and you reacted with curiosity, not fear or stubborn disbelief. We need people with open minds who can keep their heads when faced with the unknown. Mankind's future may depend on us here in Area X."
"The development and testing done at this base is only a cover. Our real work is not to create new weapons of war but to discover a means of avoiding the war that will destroy this planet in 2118."
"What will happen if you do stop the war, sir? Won't you alter the events of our time? Without the war, the ship will not go back to 1954. Won't that create other problems?"
"It might. For all we know, however, the future may be inevitable. Perhaps there is no way to prevent Armageddon, but don't you agree that we have to try?"
Cindy concurred. She would gladly join the dedicated men and women of Area X and devote her life to trying to save the earth from annihilation. She owed it to her fellow man, to the future of the planet and to her own life-long curiosity that began with those mysterious lights she'd seen in the sky above the reservoir.
Weather balloons were often mistaken for UFOs. Here's a balloon that is definitely alien in nature.