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by David Derrico


Ian continued walking through the spaceport, more or less at random. As he gaped at a kiosk offering a wide variety of creative piercing services, he was startled by a loud ringing sound coming from his pocket. Belatedly, he realized his cell phone was ringing. He went to answer it, and paused, then shrugged disinterestedly. He never got signal anywhere back on Earth, so why shouldn’t he get reception half a galaxy away?

He answered the phone skeptically. “Hello?”

“Mr. Harebungler?” came a voice, rather clearly, Ian thought. “Is that you?”

Ian looked down at himself. “I believe so.”

“Good, good, Mr. Harebungler. This is Colonel Zachary Sanders of the NETSA. It has come to our attention that you have recently been abducted by aliens. As such, I have a very important mission for you.”

“Really?” asked Ian, who had never heard of the NETSA. “What is the NETSA?”

“I’m afraid that’s classified, Mr. Harebungler. But we have an important mission for you.”

Ian shrugged. “What’s the mission?”

“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to tell you that, Mr. Harebungler.” The man sighed. “Perhaps you don’t realize just how important—and how classified—this mission is. You are, after all, only a civilian. It just wouldn’t do for us to go around telling civilians about super-secret, classified plans like this one, now would it?”

Ian was confused. “No, I suppose not.” There was an uncomfortable silence. “So it’s like, Top Secret, then?”

“Oh, no,” said the man, whose voice was beginning to disconcert Ian. “It’s far more classified than that. In fact, it’s so fiendishly classified, even the name describing how classified it is, is classified. Do you see?”

“Yes,” said Ian, who didn’t.

“Very good.”

“Wait a moment,” said Ian, who was beginning to piece some of the conversation together as his head cleared. “Did you say your name was Sanders?”

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