He rolled his occiput back and forth on the ground beneath his sleeping bag, feeling the tufts of grass on either side of the depression in which he'd positioned his head for sleep. It must yet be an hour 'till astronomical dawn, complete night yet.
Camped as they were on an open plain, the night sky reached literally forever above them. Half of all actual creation was available in plan view, a giant screen of infinity. What was happening before him that couldn't be made out? What objects hurtled back and forth out there, and with what intent? Delivered by what forces? And were their origins sentient? Millions of huge and minute objects and not-actual-objects of unimaginable nature, and also wholly knowable and awful, flew across space right out there somewhere in front of him, and indeed always had, for all knowable time. And during our brief celestial transit, we moved about our small blue planet's surface, scrupulously busy only with ourselves. But no longer, he realized.
Perhaps some more time of innocence could be bought. His current companions seemed not materially interested in the planet Earth or it's people, or any of the other life. Our consciousness, however, was of more than passing interest, he gathered. Some of the ways humans interacted with their burgeoning methods of mental elaboration resulted in surprising leaps of instantiation. Much more than passive mental perception and remote observation was accomplished now. At DARPA John had witnessed cloud manipulation in controlled chambers accomplished just through thought. During a deep background tour of another totally black facility, he had been told by a Colonel in the Air Force strictly off the record from his superiors, that a young female Navy pilot had completely “evaporated” herself. She was a gifted flier deeply involved in blending the human/aircraft interface, and the ultimate objective of the project was to render the aircraft and pilot invisible. Absolutely no trace of her remained. She vanished in front of half her squadron during a recreation period, changing sides in a table tennis match she was easily winning, grinning like the winner she was. Her aircraft was now useless in her absence. Retained uncomfortably in an otherwise empty hanger.
He reflected that were his own vision sufficiently discerning, he would see some detail on nearby planets. That was possible, but he had not the enhancement. If considerably more discerning still, he would see back a few hundred thousand years or more, and a long way out. That too, was possible. Redshift vision was now available through enhanced humans, but that was not generally known. He recalled that his defense Secretary had briefed him that USSPACECOM Pattern Recognition adepts had trained with implants and exobrains capable of maintaining an “understood image loop” of relatively large sectors of the galactic quadrants for a number of hours, and note significant changes within the time period. This was useful if there was something visible to observe. Considerations of that sort didn't always apply to the creatures he accompanied now.
He wondered at their ability to approach Earth undetected. Relative speed was the obvious main factor. None of the usual space/time relationships applied to their method of travel, clearly.
He had watched the one that served as interrogator. The lanky creature moved slowly, handling the strangest things, scrutinizing. A rock, once, and intently. With what John now understood was pleasure, he (?) turned it over and over, not looking at it, rather watching it, long many-knuckled fingers surrounding it in a rubbery, almost sticky grip. Also odd bits of trash. It had examined the back of a road sign when they had crossed a two lane highway, and a rear view mirror broken off a long passed car. It occurred to John then that the creature saw what was in the mirror in the past. It held the mirror up so it could look back down the road, and passed it's fingers over the glass in a caress. It had also apparently divined the contents of a small computer discarded in haste by the ones they pursued, simply by handling it thoroughly. John knew this as the creature reported it's knowledge directly to the leader, and in uninflected but rapid English. But only an overview, nothing specific that John could use.
There was evidently a disagreement and skirmish amongst the group ahead. One of that party they found wounded and unconscious in a shallow depression off the trail they followed.
The interrogator cradled the man's head, kneading it gently. The eyes rolled up and soundless moaning issued from wriggling lips. John imagined neurons lining up reluctantly and traversing the failing synapses in the man's head, inexorably moving out from the stem to the inside surface of the skull, and thence into the hair follicles, and out in dirty brown rows of naked information into the creature's long fingers, and on to the new, implacably commanding alien nervous system, to be filed and reported to the leader.
As he lay still he watched a distant light moving unconcerned across the sky. A dot no different than the unmoving stars and clouds of faint cosmic groups it seemed amidst. A simple aeroplane probably. And that would be simple indeed. If not precisely black, was the backdrop of Heaven it traversed deepest darkest blue? It was just passing below Ursa Major. He almost sighed. The peace he and other introspectives had always experienced contemplating the quaint constellations above, while Sol shone down on the far side, was gone now forever for him. How the Vatican had convulsed over the revelations of Galileo. His mind bounced from one related triviality to another unbidden, avoiding the task of rising and facing his captors. An unregulated mental luxury, to let his mind idle. He could afford it a few more minutes, receding from dreams and quieting before the meditation he needed to control himself in the active presence of his “hosts”.
Meditating at night with eyes open always generated a profound and pleasant vertigo. He usually projected well out to the farthest orbits of the EOS system, the units that monitored Earth. These now revolved Earth at far higher altitude than anyone not directly involved with their use knew. As a practical exercise, the sessions including projection (as opposed to analysis) were no more secret than any other history of mental exercise. However, remote viewing was not something one expected from the country's President. For now, he sank into simple non-discriminative meditation.
As he came out of the half trance, he knew great peace. He arose with a slight smile, and turned his head to see the interrogator gazing at him. John used his wider disarming smile, hoping to deflect greater interest. He did not want those long gentle fingers on his head.