The packages started arriving on a Wednesday morning. The first drones appeared in a town just outside Boston, and it took several hours before they started showing up all over the United States. Their appearance was mysterious and out of nowhere, which made it hard for government officials to pick a home base for the investigation. Without a clear origin story, the first place they were spotted seemed like the smartest choice.
The first person to call it in was Horton Hosier, a retired pediatrician who'd been stepping outside to walk his pug, Martin. He was facing away from the street, fumbling with his keys and swearing a bit as he tried to lock the door when Martin started barking at something above them. Martin only ever barked at the mailman, Dennis, or the bigger dogs in the neighborhood who made him feel inferior, so Horton thought it was unusual and looked up to see what all the ruckus was about. The drone was slowly descending from an unknown spot among the clouds, and when it was about 15 feet above Horton's head, it dropped a small package onto his doorstep. As soon as the package had been released, the drone sped off, faster than anything Horton or Martin had ever seen before, which left Martin barking as hard as his little lungs could manage. Horton looked around, perplexed, then noticed other drones dropping identical packages at houses all along his street. Not every house, he noted later to various news outlets, which ended up being an important detail.
A little more than a third of the households in town were recipients of the drone drop. None of the packages were labeled. That paired with their strange and sudden appearance quickly caused town-wide panic. Monica Asher of Rosevelt Lane left her package on the front lawn underneath a large mixing bowl until her husband came home from work. Lester King, who lived above the hardware store he owned, quickly closed up shop when he noticed the packages falling all over the place, including one right in front of his store. As the news spread all over town, parents began rushing to pick their kids up from school, and within the hour all the local schools had declared an early dismissal so the teachers could head home and see if they had packages waiting for them. Within two hours the grocery stores were packed with people buying everything in sight. News crews began showing up amid the frenzy — but they dispersed as soon as the packages became a nationwide phenomenon.
The calls began coming into everywhere of note a little after noon. For the first few hours, it was a quiet kind of chaos. "Mysterious packages arriving by drones showing up all over the United States" was all that was being reported. Those who'd received one felt a little more reassured and those who hadn't felt wildly uneasy. Nothing compared to the chaos that ensued when it was finally revealed who the packages were from.
Pictures were popping up all over social media. Some influencers did unboxing videos to loop in and brag to those who hadn't received anything. A teenager from Texas created an unboxing dance on TikTok that quickly caught on. People became hooked on the reveals, even though each package was exactly the same. They were about the size of a shoebox and made of a filmy silver material. They all arrived by drone without labels of any kind. Inside, nestled in what looked like silver cotton, was a small metal tablet of sorts, about the size of an iPhone. Each tablet came with what appeared to be headphones, but they were much smaller than any others on the market. It didn't seem like they'd fit in most ears, adult or child, without falling out or getting lost, but through videos of people trying them out, it was discovered that when you placed them in your ears, they expanded and latched in. This startled many at first, making for entertaining content, but all you had to do was press on them lightly and they easily detached. For the first twelve hours, though, no one could figure out how to turn the tablets on.
Once it became clear how widespread this delivery was, the military was deployed. After all, it had to be an attack of some kind, right? The drones were untraceable, so the origins of the packages remained unknown. No one knew what to do. None of the emergency protocols had planned for this. Should every package be turned over to the FBI or the CIA or seasoned scientists who could conduct safety tests? The White House had not received one, but many who worked there had. Just as the people in charge were trying to figure out if the US was the only country being targeted, the nations of the world began talking to each other.
The packages touched down in every country over the span of about eight hours. There didn't seem to be a rhyme or reason to the delivery schedule, which fascinated everyone who was paying attention. A timeline was later worked out, and it seemed that after the US came Finland, then Guatemala, then China, then France, and so on and so forth in a most haphazard way. The distribution order didn't make any sense, the news outlets mused, as well-known comedians and avid Twitter users rushed to point out that it was ironic to comment on the sensical nature of a detail related to a larger issue that made even less sense.
As the world panicked, leaders tried to take control. The president addressed the nation and made a point to say nothing divisive or particularly helpful. Finally, 12 hours after Martin the pug barked at a drone in the sky, every tablet that had been delivered to the small town in Massachusetts turned on at the exact same time.
Nadia Fisher, a second-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary and a mother of three, heard the tablet pinging from the kitchen while she was enjoying a glass of wine on the couch after putting the kids to bed. Curious and also terrified, she called to her wife and they both hovered over the tablet, nervous to touch it. A white light was blinking gently from the upper right-hand corner as the device continued to ping. Eventually, Nadia popped the headphones into her ears and hesitantly tapped the tablet with her finger. It lit up immediately, and a large blue circle appeared on the screen with something written on it in a language neither Nadia nor her wife recognized. A recording began flowing from the headphones, and Nadia told reporters later that she noticed there was a voice speaking a foreign language softly in the background while a computerized voice seemingly translated whatever they were saying into English.
"Hello. You will learn our language. You will learn our science. It will help you grow. We will watch and wait. When we come back, we will give you a test. It is very important. Goodbye."
Nadia was shaking when she took out the headphones, and she immediately grabbed her phone to call the police.
Every recording said the same thing. People were yelling in the streets, banging on neighbors' doors, and gathering outside to share in their dread. For the second time that day, the entire town was at a collective loss. The mayor called a town meeting in the gymnasium at John James High School, and people showed up in their pajamas, children sleeping in strollers or slumped over their parents' shoulders, teenagers shouting to their friends and trying to congregate as their parents yelled at them to stay close. The room was electric, buzzing with nerves. Everyone gathered together like that only made it worse, and many people squirmed in their seats and against the walls, physically uncomfortable. As the mayor talked strategy, the sound of helicopters and sirens appeared in the air and grew louder every minute. Before long, it felt like every important person within driving distance was on the scene telling everyone to go home and shelter in place, shouting instructions at whoever was closest to them. The townspeople scurried home, some solemn, some crying. Based on experience, they knew what was coming next.
Just like with the drones, within hours, the whole world had heard the message, and the reaction was unprecedented. It didn't take long for the word alien to appear in every headline, TikTok sound, YouTube video, and Facebook status. There was no other conclusion to draw. The aliens had finally made public contact — and they'd singled out specific households to communicate with. Analysis articles and videos were popping up by the hour. Conspiracy theories were everywhere. Everyone from your childhood friend Zack to Aunt Melinda had an opinion on how and why and who and what. There was no way to escape it.
Once the message had played through a few times, the tablet shut off again. The world was waiting for whatever came next, and everyone knew exactly where it would happen first.
A company that had purchased a large plot of land to build a new housing development in the small New England town was quickly bought out, and construction began the next day on a new headquarters facility for the PPTF, or Package Project Task Force. Experts from different agencies and institutions had already started arriving, packing hotels, inns, and Airbnbs locally and in all the neighboring towns. The town council tried to fight against it, but it was out of their hands. William Drake stood up at a town meeting with his wife, Lydia, and expressed his fears about raising their soon-to-be-born twins amid such a spectacle. Lydia clutched her swollen belly and looked around the room with pleading eyes as other desperate parents nodded in agreement. Maisy Ray, a tall woman with bouncy curls and judgemental eyes, stood up and announced that her son, Tyler, and a group of his friends had been playing near the construction site, hoping to catch a glimpse of the aliens hanging around, and Tyler had ended up with a sprained ankle. She gave an impassioned speech about how having the headquarters based in their town was too dangerous a distraction for moldable minds and proposed they petition to have it moved to Boston, not too far away but a safe distance from all the local goings on. Many more concerned townspeople got up to speak, but unfortunately, it was no use. No one in the room had enough authority to make any changes, not even the mayor. It was over her head.
Meanwhile, alien fever was sweeping the nation. Articles on how to prepare for the next contact were all over the place. People on talk shows and podcasts argued about what it meant if you did or didn't receive a package and what exactly the test would be. Amazon started selling alien preparedness kits, and schools all over the place were practicing alien drills, just in case. The entire world was on edge together — and then the tablets turned on again.
Michael Katz, aged seven, was pretending to tap on the tablet when it lit up for real, and his dad quickly grabbed it from him as he wailed about wanting to talk to the aliens. His dad put in the headphones and shakily tapped the screen. This time there wasn't just a single message, but lots of pages to click on and explore, all aimed at one thing: learning the aliens' language.
All over town, the tablets were lighting up, and the quiet streets were almost instantly noisy and packed as the task force rushed to do its job. They knocked on doors and made announcements via megaphones in the streets, encouraging people to let them examine the tablets and give them as much information as possible. They needed to prepare and strategize because, in a few hours, the whole world would have the info and finally know why the aliens had come.
This time, the tablets stayed on, giving the impression that delivering the language guide had been the goal. With the objective figured out, many questions were solidified. Why only give tablets to some households? Was it random, or were they chosen for a reason? Should everyone be able to learn the alien language or only the selected individuals? The questions were coming fast and no one had answers yet. No one was even sure who was supposed to be answering them.
It was soon decided that several colleges and universities in Boston would serve as the language centers for learning Tach, the language the aliens had given earth the tools to decipher. The high volume of colleges in and around Boston paired with the proximity to the place of first contact made it an obvious choice. Linguists began pouring into the task force center, ready to study and become experts in Tach so they could impart the knowledge to the rest of the world. Once they'd taken the time and space to get familiar with the new language, the courses went live. Anyone could sign up for a course, both in person and online, and students of the chosen colleges and universities could also choose Tach as a field of study. The courses had waiting lists within hours and applications to the chosen schools shot as sky-high as the elusive aliens. Everyone wanted a piece of the action.
There was some debate over whether or not non-package people should be allowed to learn Tach. After all, they weren't chosen. It was soon decided that they could, but first priority would be given to package people when it came to classes. Meanwhile, a lot of people were taking the learning process into their own hands. Amid the chaos of the once-quiet town, Dion Nelson spent hours in the library, tucked away in a corner, studying his tablet. The different pages within it contained everything you needed to learn a language and had a whole section for learning specifics about the aliens themselves, like the sciences they'd developed and the details of their travel methods. Dion was a straight-A student who had many college offers, but his grades began to slip just before graduation as he checked out and focused all his time on learning the ways of the aliens. He skipped prom and other important rights of passage. He became completely consumed. He didn't just want to learn about the aliens; he wanted to become one with them.
The mesmerizing nature of the aliens affected people all over the globe. Everyone gushed about how beautiful the language was, how complex their science was, and how superior the aliens clearly were to the human race. They'd chosen earth for a reason, though, and groups and organizations began forming everywhere to prepare for whatever that reason was. Fashion week became focused on alien styles, with shimmery blues, purples, and greens catching eyes all over the room. "Help the aliens" video games became all the rage. Alien fan fiction was shared in forums and Reddit threads across the internet. A new religion dedicated to worshipping the aliens began popping up in multiple countries. The world was losing itself in the alien craze, and no one seemed to mind.
The town that started it all became a top travel destination. An alien museum was built next to the public library, and the local theater stopped showing current movies and instead switched over to only showing alien flicks. The high school began offering alien electives, and Lester King's hardware store sold alien preparedness tools and kits of all kinds. It was whimsical and fun and brought in stellar revenue for the town, but there was a sinister side to the alien invasion. A spike in anxiety among the town's youngest residents was reported by school counselors not long after everything started. Package people began shunning their non-package neighbors, and a list circulated of who fell into which category so everyone would know where each household stood, an air of superiority hanging over the chosen ones. Brandon Buckley, a sophomore at John James High School, was found tied to a basketball post in the gym one day, stripped naked and covered in green and yellow paint, a sign hanging around his neck that read, "Come abduct this freak." There was no escaping what the packages had brought. There was no going back.
As time went on, a lot of speculation arose about when exactly the aliens would return. People wanted to be ready. People wanted more alien action. When it didn't come, the world started to move on.
Years went by, and the aliens never came back. The test that earth was supposed to prepare for remained a mystery. The task force headquarters stayed active, of course, because it had to. The experts knew this wasn't over. Someday it would be an active situation they'd have to face again. For now, though, it was just a waiting game, and everyone began to wonder if the worldwide disorganized free for all had scared the aliens away.