It was three months from the day the lights appeared when the ships appeared in Earth’s skies. They didn’t announce themselves, or even acknowledge any of Earth’s attempts to contact them.
Communications between the planet’s leaders buzzed, the news outlets speculated, and people spent the three months wondering about what it all meant. When the ships arrived peacefully, and nothing more shocking happened, as usual, people got used to them and life went on. People went from watching the skies to worrying about whatever crisis the news media was promoting this week.
Robert Baldwin couldn’t decide if there was any reason to worry. At times, he felt the faint prickle of unease, but for no good reason he could put his finger on. It was just there.
The external appearance of the ships wasn’t cause for alarm, either. In fact, they rather resembled geometric abstractions of the clean white clouds of a perfect summer day. Robert’s upstairs neighbor, Ted, who saw conspiracies in everything, claimed that made them more dangerous.
“Hey, they look harmless and then wham! They go for world domination and use us for soup!”
Robert mused that Ted had probably cornered the market on tinfoil, imagining it stocked to the ceiling in his apartment. “I think you’ve watched too many Twilight Zone episodes, Ted.”
“You wait. You’ll see.”
All he saw, along with everyone else, was nothing. The ships kept hovering in the skies, and were mostly disregarded. There was still no attempt at contact, peaceful or otherwise, no one disappeared and life went on pretty much as usual.
If anything, it seemed as though life was too good. At night, the news had fewer road rage reports, fewer violent crimes, and there hadn’t been a mass shooting for months. Human interaction had changed – this city was generally regarded as a hotbed of anger and “me first”, but Robert thought he heard less swearing (almost none, in fact) and people weren’t so prone to pushing and shoving their way through the streets. He eyed the ships above him uneasily and thought about Ted.
The next morning they met on the stairs. “So, still think you’ll wind up as Cream of Ted?” Robert joked.
Ted looked at his neighbor in surprise. “What?” He paused, a couple of steps below Robert. “Oh. No. You know – I think I overreacted.”
Robert almost tripped as he walked down to Ted’s level. “Excuse me?”
“No, seriously.” They descended together. “I’ve actually got kind of a – I don’t know – good feeling about this?” He looked at Robert quizzically.
Robert returned his look, equally confused and a little concerned.
Ted’s smile was uncharacteristically beatific. “No I’m haven’t been ‘body snatched’ or anything. I just don’t think we have anything to worry about.”
Reynolds’ stock was about to drop, Robert thought, and shrugged. “If you say so.” Maybe Ted was right, but somehow he wasn’t sure.
A week later, he was very sure indeed. Robert woke from a deep sleep with no warning. Two tall, thin, shadowy gray figures stood at the foot of his bed.
The shape on the right raised a spectral hand. “Hush, human.” The voice was thin and bloodless and yet managed to sound like someone’s maiden aunt soothing a child.
“We prefer lulling our herds to sleep,” the figure on the left said in the same kind of voice. “But some sheep, to use a term familiar to you, simply can’t be lulled.”
“Such as you, human,” said Right-Side.
“So we cull our herds.” A twitch of Left-Side’s hand sent Robert flying – right out the window. Even though he was terrified, he couldn’t scream – he couldn’t move.
The couple returning from their date didn’t scream either as Robert landed in front of them, quite dead.
“Poor guy,” the woman said as she stepped over his body, careful not to get any blood on her Manolos.
“Yes. I’m sure someone will take care of this,” her companion said.
They snuggled as they continued down the street, their faces blindly raised to the moonlight reflecting from the visitors’ ships.