The great revelation of our decade was that the foil hats were right all along - the government had been lying to us, and covering up the undeniable proof - that aliens had come to earth in their flying saucers. Only the proof, leaked by hackers from the pentagon’s own archives, was in documents that last dated 1983. Since then, nearly four decades ago, there had been nothing.
The news spread mixed feelings. Surely if we were no longer being visited there was no reason to keep it secret? A moot point anyway, as the analysis, the reports, the documents on crashes and salvaged equipment - they all made their way across the internet like wildfire. Still other, more foily hats suggested it was a false flag, a token gesture to distract us from the reality that they were still here, or they were among us, or they were us. The mainstream ignored them.
The countries and the companies wasted little time in applying themselves to the leaked documents, and digging through their studies to reverse engineer technology and secrets previously reserved for secret experimental craft alone. Now it was in the daylight, we could go bigger, we could unite our resources in public to make our own saucers and attempt the stars. Anything was within our reach as we built our own functioning star drive. The question for where in the stars to make our destination was an obvious one. We had been visited, now nearly six decades ago, and then abandoned. Time to return in kind.
In kind we went, the first team of five of us travelling across the galaxy to a star many light years away - but for the aliens, and now for us, a fraction of the time. As the weeks of our voyage came to an end, the crew and I became antsy, restless. The other four had their jobs to do in transit, maintaining the ship, rehearsing the landing and inevitable contact. I had no activity to busy me yet save for writing and ruminating on that last part of the mission -- contact. With all forms of recording equipment, microphones, cameras, holographic capturers, and if all else failed my trusty pen and paper, I was the resident journalist, historian of the future, making the record of our re-contact with an alien race.
The planet we approached had been found by backtracking a crashed saucer’s travel log, and by careful mathematics far beyond my grasp, we had plotted a course back to the origin. A planet not far removed from our own, with cold grey patches at the poles, colourful blues and greens and reds around the equator, a moon -- no, two moons -- orbiting in the sky. Our craft took us in to the atmosphere, and the seatbelts held us down as with a great shuddering we dropped through the clouds to approach the ground layer below. Hans, the pilot, took control of our final approach as Mission Captain Iwasaki scanned, electrically and visually, for the right landing place.
“There! Four O’clock, there’s some kind of settlement. Place us down there in the patch of red.”
Hans took us down as we all craned our necks to see. Out amongst a sea of red plants waving idly, a few squat tan buildings sat with little grace or dignity. It reminded me less of an advanced, starfaring civilisation than it did of the farms back home, tucked away in the West Country. I took photographs and recorded our descent down with a feeling, though mildly disappointed, overall of great excitement. As we came mere metres from the ground, two bipedal figures emerged from the closer of the buildings and waddled towards us. Dressed in dirty clothes with geometric patterns, one wearing some form of hat and the other carrying what I assumed to be a farming implement -- if it were not for the grey, bulbous head and the gangliness of their limbs, I wouldn’t have made the alien connection. We donned our masks and, my camera rolling, set out to meet them.
“Yes. Some time past - a lifetime for some - your species have come to our planet in crafts much like this one behind me.”
Iwasaki gestured behind him to the saucer, sleek and shiny, a trace of scorch marks on the underneath. The hat-wearing alien cocked their head and twiddled their fingers.
“Hmmm. I wouldn’t know.”
“You... wouldn’t know?”
The alien nodded. “I don’t even own a saucer. Hey, Frillip, you ever see creatures like this?”
The other alien shook their head, still clutching the unidentified tool. They walked a couple of metres to the side to get a different look at the saucer, before shrugging - a remarkably human gesture that took me by surprise.
“It kinda looks like something one of the folks from the capital would fly. Can’t be sure, though.”
“There you have it. We don’t know. You sure it’s this planet?”
Iwasaki started to stutter. “I -- we traced the path, we -- surely you must know! You’re the only other sentient lifeforms we’ve met!”
With that, the hat-wearing alien clicked their fingers and whistled. The two of them looked at each other and made some form of gesture. I got the feeling it was one of humour.
“I get it now! I reckon you did get visited,” hat-wearer said. “Ain’t by us personally, though.”
We all frowned, confused, and I saw Iwasaki struggle for a response.
“Y’see,” said tool-holder, “Them rich young folks in the capital -- some of them, they start to grow up, they go travelling. It’s fashion.”
“Fashion?” Iwasaki asked. The aliens both nodded back.
“Yeah. A backwards planet, unspoiled nature, see the animals.”
The two of them made that laughter-gesture again, and hat-wearer shrugged.
“You say no-one’s come visiting in a lifetime? Guess your planet isn’t fashionable anymore.”