Troy and the Aliens
by Ruth Nestvold
Tomorrow, Somewhere Secret in the U.S.
“Europe! Can anyone tell me why they landed in Europe? What do the Europeans have that we don’t have?”
“Higher population density and a greater diversity of culture, Sir. At least according to the aliens.”
“Well, then, why the hell did it happen to be Germany?”
“I believe I read that it partly had to do with Time Magazine, Sir.”
“They did make Hitler man of the century a couple of years back.”
“I thought that was Albert Einstein.”
“Well, he’s German too, Sir. Our sources tell us that the aliens have been monitoring our media off and on for decades. That was one of the reasons for choosing Stuttgart.”
“Stuttgart! Who has ever heard of Stuttgart!”
“It’s where they make Mercedes and Porsche.”
“Sir, may I read the translation of part of the speech they gave when they landed?”
“Go ahead, go ahead.”
“‘From the examples of your media that we have studied and the monuments that you build, it has become clear to us that your world worships the automobile. For this reason, we chose to come to the city which builds the automobiles most worshiped on the planet.'”
“Why didn’t they come to Detroit, for Chrissakes?”
“I don’t think as many people worship General Motors, Sir.”
“Careful, Jackson, my sense of humor is running low today.”
“I’ll remember that, Sir.”
“We need to cover our asses in case these big green men are real. I want someone on this now. Not tomorrow, today. Got that, Jackson?”
“Yes, Sir, I got that too, Sir.”
“I want you to go to –– Stuttgart, was it? –– Stuttgart and get those aliens to come here as soon as possible.”
“Me, Sir? But I don’t know any German.”
“Don’t those aliens speak English?”
“I don’t know, Sir. But what about the Germans?”
“Europeans all speak English. Once you’re there, get in touch with the German government and make sure you get an interview. We’ll send the Secretary of State as soon as he can cut off his Middle East trip.”
“The German government is in Berlin, Sir. Should I go there instead?”
“Who’s got control of these aliens now?”
Rustle, rustle. “It’s the state of, uh, I don’t know how to pronounce this, something like Bad–en–wurtemberg.”
“Then, Jackson, you go to the government of Bad–en–wurtemberg and you talk to those aliens. They’ve obviously misunderstood the media they’ve been studying –– assuming they’re real, that is. Do whatever you have to, official, unofficial, I don’t care.”
“Remember, Jackson, not tomorrow, today.”
The day after tomorrow, Stuttgart, Germany
Troy Jackson got off the plane groggy and out–of–sorts, his personal assistants trailing behind him down the stairs pushed up against their aircraft. On the government jet to Germany, they’d reviewed the material on the aliens; although the Earth’s exotic visitors had landed less than 48 hours ago, the amount of data was staggering. Examining the news broadcasts and photographs, Troy found it hard to believe the aliens might be fake –– they looked like tall E.T.s in Star Trek suits, so hokey they had to be real.
The limo waited for them on the rain–drenched runway of the Stuttgart airport. It didn’t help his mood that in D.C. it had been a beautiful September day when he left. Customs police in dark green uniforms inspected their passports and diplomatic passes before waving them over to their vehicle.
“Sarah, I want you to stay on top of all the media reports on the aliens,” he said shortly, handing her his coat and his briefcase as they walked through the drizzle to the limo.
The driver held the door open for them and she waited for him to get in first. “Yes, boss!”
Andy slid into the seat opposite, Walter close behind. Sarah leaned her head back against the leather upholstery and closed her eyes as the car started. “Man, I’m beat.”
Troy shot her an impatient look. He didn’t feel too hot himself, but he had to keep the show together.
A cell phone rang, and they all automatically reached for their pockets.
“Mine,” Andy said.
Troy settled back in the soft leather, listening to the audible half of the conversation as they merged into traffic and headed downtown. Given Andy’s protests, it didn’t sound good.
“Uh oh,” Andy said, closing his phone. “The interpreter the consulate arranged for us is sick. But they say the state government will help us locate someone, even though pretty much all the interpreters in town are booked. This place is crawling with journalists and politicos.”
Troy sighed. “Walter, I want you to clear up the interpreter situation. And remember, not tomorrow, today.”
They all laughed.
“Except that it already is tomorrow,” Sarah said, opening one green eye.
The local government officials had invited them over to collect passes and material on the aliens’ schedules when they arrived, and the offices were only a short walk from the hotel, across a footbridge over a four–lane street and through a park. Sarah held his briefcase and Andy his umbrella as they walked through drenched trees in fall colors, past a duck pond in front of a baroque building.
The receptionist at the government offices of the state of Baden–Württemberg was a mountain of a woman, broad and immovable. “You are almost too late,” the woman said with a heavy accent, the vowels so rounded and well–defined he could hardly understand what she said. “We close at twelve.”
The government shut down at lunch time? No wonder the Europeans were so far behind.
“I’m sorry,” Troy said. “The traffic was worse than in New York. Now, when will we be able to speak with the aliens?”
The mountain shrugged. “Sey are wery busy.”
Troy pursed his lips. “As personal aide to the President of the United States of America, it is imperative that I have an interview with the aliens as soon as possible.”
The receptionist shoved some papers around on her desk, and it was all Troy could do to keep from tapping his foot. “Ser schedule in Stuttgart is full until tomorrow.” She pronounced it “Shtootgaart.” “Sey will be at se Folksfest tonight.”
Troy glanced at the plaque on the desk. “Surely there is something you can do, Birgit –– I can call you Birgit?”
“Certainly not,” Birgit Up–Yours told him.
Troy was a bit taken aback, and he shot a glance at Sarah beside him. She looked as if she was attempting to hold back laughter.
“But I am here in the name of the President of the United States,” he insisted.
“You are still late.”
Troy took a deep breath and avoided looking at Sarah again. Big Ms. Birgit Grauer certainly had a major attitude problem, but he would deal with it. He dealt with the Prez, after all.
“We will be able to speak with them at this Volksfest then?” he asked, much more politely than he felt.
“Yes,” the receptionist said. “Your passes allow you to join sem any time. You show sem to se security of the state of ––” and then she said something that didn’t sound the least bit like “Bad–en–Wurtemburg.”
She acted as if this were some kind of great favor. Gracious, he had to be gracious.
He nodded. “Thank you.”
“We are here to assist you any way possible.”
That wasn’t the way Troy would have phrased it, but he left the government offices with good grace, passes, and printouts, his assistants trailing behind.
For the Volksfest (dress informal according to the official alien schedule), Troy and his retinue all abandoned their suits for jeans and T–shirts; luckily, they came prepared for anything. Their interpreter for the evening was a friendly–looking dirty–blond with brown eyes and a wide smile by the name of Rebecca Sondheim.
They took the streetcar to the fairgrounds. The brightly lit Ferris Wheel rose above him in the night sky, and the lights of the rides and booths were reflected on the Neckar River. He had a hard time remembering that he had an agenda.
Rebecca was dragging them in the direction of the beer tents. “These aliens are students of culture. That’s where they’re going to be.”
Sure enough, the beer tents were full to overflowing with people who not only wanted to drink beer in mass quantities but also wanted to experience the aliens live. By some kind of semi–native magic, Rebecca fought their way through the crowds, and soon they were standing in a large, temporary hall so smoky, Troy had a hard time breathing. Europeans were fools in more ways than one.
Despite the appellation “beer tent,” it wasn’t actually a tent, it was a wooden structure as big as a football field filled with folding tables and benches, row upon row of them. On one side of the building, an oompah band played atrocious music while everyone sang off–key.
And smack dab in the middle, in front of the oompah band, four aliens were dancing on the table. Their arms were linked, and they swayed to the horns, much as their German compatriots on nearby tables.
Troy stared at the aliens, fascinated. It was one thing to see pictures or newscasts of them, and another to see them dancing on tables in the middle of a beer tent, cigarette smoke in the air and beer on the tongue. They no longer had their Star Trek outfits on, sporting instead what had to be tailor–made jeans and T–shirts, the same outfit Troy and his entourage wore. They had two arms, two legs, and a head with eyes, nose, mouth, and bumps on the sides of their heads vaguely resembling ears. There the resemblance to humans ended: they were extraordinarily tall and skinny, taller than he would have expected from the pictures and videos, and their skin was a translucent greenish–white. If they had any hair, it was not recognizable at this distance. If they had any primary sexual characteristics, they were certainly not obvious to a human (assuming that among the four dancing on the tabletop, there were members of more than one sex.)
And one of them wore a Grateful Dead T–shirt.
“My, God,” Troy said. “The universe is a wonderful thing.”
Sarah looked at him sharply. “You haven’t already downed one of these unnaturally huge beers yet, have you?”
“Think about it, Sarah. Did you ever imagine you would be standing in a German beer tent watching an alien dancing on a tabletop wearing a Grateful Dead T–shirt?”
She didn’t have an answer to that.
Troy stood staring at the sight, almost unaware of the horrible air, until Rebecca grabbed his hand and dragged him and his staff forward to get a closer look at the aliens.
Rebecca squeezed them through the laughing, red–faced Germans to the aliens’ table, which was ringed with security officers and bodyguards. She leaned over the aisle between the benches and spoke briefly to a woman at the table and a stern–looking security officer, arms crossed in front of his wide body. Then they were showing their badges and scooting onto the bench, the aliens above them, weaving to the music, arm–in–arm.
Rebecca ordered what sounded like a “Maass.” The serving–woman arrived carrying a dozen huge beer steins as big as pitchers back home, and deposited one in front of her. She shoved it over to Troy. “Try it. When in Rome and all that.”
Troy took a sip, bitter and refreshing, but warmer than he cared for. He was still staring at the aliens.
The woman Rebecca had talked to called something up to the aliens, and they glanced down, smiling. At least Troy presumed it was a smile. When they saw Troy and his retinue, they clambered down and sat on the benches.
Rebecca did the introductions, saying the names and pointing. “Troy, Sarah, Andy, Walt, meet Hans, Rudy, Dagmar, Martin, and Ute.” The last was the interpreter/guide for the aliens.
“Hans?” Sarah echoed.
The alien wearing the Grateful Dead T–shirt turned to her, that expression Troy interpreted as a smile on his pale greenish face. “We chose names like the names here,” he said in a reedy, wheezing voice with a German accent. “Our names are for humans impossible to pronounce.”
“Can you say them for us just so we can hear?” Walter asked.
The aliens made some wheezing sounds that Troy could only describe to himself as nearly toneless wind instruments –– it had a vaguely musical quality, but not varying more than a few notes, and the whooshing air sound of their speech seemed more important than the notes.
“I take it they speak German better than English?” Troy said to Rebecca beside him. He didn’t have to whisper to keep his question between the two of them –– the oompah band drowned out everything that wasn’t yelled.
She nodded. “Quite well, actually. You just have to strain to understand them in this place, since they aren’t very good at shouting.”
Examining them up close, Troy was even more convinced they were real: no human could have those dimensions and survive. Of course, that didn’t rule out the possibility that they were some kind of elaborate robots using a secret technology no one yet knew about. But when he thought about the problems he had getting his top–of–line computer to even do what he wanted it to do, he found it hard to believe that there could be any secret technology anywhere in the world advanced enough to create Dagmar.
Troy turned to the closest alien, Rudy. “So you learned German before you decided to make first contact with our world.”
Rudy gazed at him steadily. “Once we decide the city where we land, we concentrate to learn the one language.”
“We try to prepare as much as possible, but we have not time to learn all Earth languages fluently,” Dagmar threw in.
“Don’t you have some kind of automatic translators or something like they have in all the science fiction shows?” Troy asked.
Rebecca laughed out loud, but the aliens gazed at him blankly. She translated what he said, but it took so long, she must have been explaining something –– perhaps science fiction.
Hans turned to him. “We have ‘automatic translators’ but they give sometimes garbage. And they are not good for first contact.”
“We only begin to learn the languages of the new world, you see,” Rudy added.
Troy shook his head. “I’d always thought that if we were ever advanced enough to travel to other worlds, we at least wouldn’t have to learn foreign languages anymore.”
Rebecca and Ute chuckled, and the aliens made high–pitched wheezing sounds, higher than the rushing–air sounds of their speech.
Laughing too. Troy grinned. It didn’t matter that the beer was too warm and the air was too smoky –– much too smoky –– he was laughing with a pack of aliens.
Besides the different T–shirts, Troy was beginning to notice some slight differences in the aliens’ appearances. Rudy was shorter than Hans and his face was thinner. The pale green of Dagmar’s skin had a slightly darker hue than Martin’s. But if he had seen one of them alone, he doubted if he would know which one it was.
Sarah leaned over to him and spoke into his ear. “How much longer do you want to stay, boss?”
He looked down at her, startled. “You want to leave?”
“The smoke is killing me.”
Troy looked at her more carefully. Her eyes were red and watery and she looked miserable.
He turned to Andy and Walt. “Could one of you take Sarah back to the hotel? She’s having problems with the air in here.”
“So am I,” Walter said.
“Me too,” Andy chimed in.
“Then why don’t all of you go? I should be able to find Le Meridien by myself.”
Ute jumped in. “The aliens are staying there too. We can take you back.”
They waved as the others got up and fought their way out of the beer tent. Troy didn’t like the smoke either, but he couldn’t tear himself away. When he gazed at the four pale green faces across from him, he felt as if the world, the universe, were full of possibilities. Anything could happen, even things he once would never have dared to imagine.
Some time and a few huge beers later, they all took the streetcar back to their hotel, surrounded by security and drunken Volksfest visitors and the curious. Although it was strange how many people already seemed to be inured to the aliens’ presence in their city.
“Are Germans really that phlegmatic?” Troy whispered to Rebecca.
She laughed. “Sure looks like it, doesn’t it?”
Troy put his arm around her and joined in her laughter, leaning his heavy head against her dirty–blond hair. He was having entirely too much fun –– and a very hard time keeping his purpose in mind.
“Progress report, Jackson?”
“Well, Sir, we were able to speak with the aliens briefly last night.”
“Then they will be on their way to the U.S. soon?”
“I did not have a chance to broach the subject, Sir. We were in public, and several German nationals were present.”
“Time is slipping by, Jackson. Time is slipping by.”
“I’m aware of that, Sir. We have a private meeting with them tomorrow.”
“Good. I hope to hear of some results then.”
In private. That was certainly a joke.
Their meeting was in an office with big glass windows and black leather couches and glass tables. Not only were the four aliens there, Troy had his staff, and an interpreter was present for each side as well. The chairs and couches were full.
As they entered the office, the aliens recognized them and rose, greeting them with their pale, thin–lipped alien smiles.
“Hello Troy, Sarah, Walt and Andy,” Dagmar wheezed. “It is nice to see you again.”
They all shook hands. “Nice to see you too,” Troy said. “That was fun last night.”
“Very fun,” Hans agreed.
Troy was disappointed to see that their interpreter wasn’t Rebecca this time. He and his staff settled in on the empty seats, and he clicked open his briefcase, pulling out a manila folder. “Now on to the official part.”
He didn’t know which of the aliens could be considered the leader, so he handed the invitation letter signed by the president to the nearest one, who happened to be Martin. “I am here on behalf of the President of the United States of America to cordially invite you to visit our country.”
The interpreter assigned to them, a disapproving–looking woman by the name of Frau Bisirsky, translated into German.
Martin responded in English. “So nice, Troy! Everyone on your world is so nice!”
“Very friendly,” Dagmar added.
The aliens consulted with their interpreter, Frau Wendt. After a moment, she turned to Troy.
“Our visitors say that they are very honored by the invitation, but they have received invitations from nearly every country on Earth. Martin and Dagmar have already accepted an invitation to Paris and will be leaving tomorrow.”
“Good taste,” Sarah murmured beside him.
“Then perhaps Hans and Rudy could visit the U.S. next?” Troy suggested. “We are very interested in establishing diplomatic relations with your world.”
There was more consulting on the opposite couch, first German, then alien wheezing, then German again.
Frau Wendt turned to him. “The aliens stress their gratitude at the President’s invitation but say they do not yet know when they will have time to visit your country.”
He thought he detected a certain glee in her voice. He wished he had Rebecca back.
“They also want you to know that they have no diplomatic authority,” she continued. “They are on a research trip, and the decision to make first contact was made because their research could not progress without it. The four who are our guests on this planet are, as I understand, an anthropologist, a linguist, a biologist, and a sociologist.”
The aliens were following what she said closely and nodding, their huge eyes wide, probably memorizing everything.
“My government would also be interested in the exchange of ideas with your world,” Troy said.
Hans shook his pale, hairless head, answering without translation from Frau Bisirsky. “We are not authorize to give information.” He stopped for a moment, at a loss, and turned to the two interpreters, speaking rapidly in German. Troy watched them, bemused. Occasionally he caught a word in English spoken by Frau Bisirsky or Frau Wendt.
Hans addressed Troy, now that he had the vocabulary he needed. “The regulations ––” he paused for a moment, and Frau Bisirsky nodded at him like an approving mother. “The regulations for star flight on our world forbid ‘exchange ideas’ on our culture, technology, and planet until we determine ––” (here he paused again to wait for the nod) “–– the knowledge effect, yes?”
“Although we teach Ute some of the sounds of our language,” Rudy added with a smile.
Andy was shaking his head. “It’s like the prime directive,” he murmured.
Troy sat back, wondering what he was supposed to do now.
“Status report, Jackson?”
“The aliens are still unwilling to make a commitment as to when they might be able to come to the U.S., Sir.”
“Is there any hidden meaning behind that?”
“No, Sir, I don’t think so.”
“Then why are they avoiding the United States?”
“It’s not that they are avoiding it, they simply have invitations from nearly every country on Earth. Everyone is trying to get them to visit, Sir.”
“Have you told them the mistake they made in landing in Germany, Jackson?”
“No, Sir, I have not been able to do that, because there are always German nationals there whenever I talk to them.”
“Even at the private meeting?”
“Even there, Sir. We had German interpreters.”
“The aliens speak better German than English.”
There was a short pause at the end of the line. “You mean they don’t have some kind of automatic translator thing like they have in all the science fiction shows?”
“No, Sir, they don’t.”
“Hm. That could be a problem. Keep me posted, Jackson.”
“I will, Sir.”
Troy was just returning from an afternoon jog around the duck pond when he ran into Rebecca and Ute and the aliens in the hotel lobby, flanked by bodyguards. Rebecca motioned him over to join them. He wiped the sweat off his face with the towel he wore draped around his neck, flashed his ID, and entered the small circle.
“Hey, Troy!” Rebecca said. “I was about to start my shift with you when I met these guys. They’re off to the Mercedes–Benz museum, but they said we could join them for dinner afterwards. You on?”
The four aliens beamed at him with their thin smiles. “Autobahn?” Rudy prompted.
Ute laughed. “Oh, that’s right. They want to try out the Autobahn too.”
“It seems they’ve picked up something about it during their research on Earth culture,” Rebecca elaborated.
“Well, since they’ve recognized that we worship the automobile, they really should try out the Autobahn,” Troy said. “No speed limits. Fahrvergnügen.”
“What?” Ute asked.
Rebecca was laughing. “He means ––” And then she said something that didn’t sound at all like what he’d said.
Troy grimaced. “I assume I didn’t say that right.”
When Troy and Rebecca arrived in the aliens’ suite that evening, all four were glued to the television, watching “The Simpsons” dubbed in German, and every now and then he heard the high, wheezing noises.
When “The Simpsons” was over, the aliens zapped to CNN. Their English was improving rapidly, but they were still having problems understanding some of what was going on.
So did Troy, for that matter. All the news had to do with the aliens, now reaction to their presence on the planet. The first story concerned how people from Siberia to Australia to Idaho were quitting their jobs by the score because they thought the world was going to end soon and they wanted to be ready.
The second story related how all over the Southwest, people were migrating to Roswell (although the movement was particularly pronounced in California.) Troy couldn’t help wondering what kind of impression this was making on the aliens. If nothing else, it didn’t make his country look like the greatest nation on the planet.
The third story was about the rash of alien abductions reported throughout the United States. A large number had also been reported in Peru and Japan.
It went on: experts on talk shows claiming that the aliens were a conspiracy; experts claiming the experts with the conspiracy theories were a hoax; people from all over the world trying to get the aliens to notice them so they could go away with them when they left, away from this horrible life.
And over and over again, Troy heard the high, wheezing noises of alien laughter.
Then a story came on with the aliens themselves –– in the beer tent the day before, all of them drinking from those huge beer steins. Including a close–up of Hans and Troy toasting each other.
The high, wheezing laughter of the aliens stopped.
Dagmar pointed at the television and said something in German.
“She’s asking if this is all real,” Rebecca explained.
“I’m wondering myself,” Troy said.
When they left the hotel, the aliens no longer looked as if they were smiling, and Troy caught them wheezing softly to each other at regular intervals.
They went out for dinner to a Turkish restaurant just out the back entrance and up the street from Le Meridien, security following closely.
“How was the Autobahn?” he asked to get their minds off the idiotic things humans were doing because aliens had stopped by their planet for a visit.
“I do not know why it should be such a wonderful thing,” Rudy said, shaking his head in an imitation of human gestures. Troy had never seen any of them do anything like that before.
They took their places in the small restaurant, the security guards at the surrounding tables. The decor was Mediterranean: painted in shades of blue and white and the tables decorated with sea shells and glass weights.
“We were stuck in traffic,” Ute explained. “No racing down the freeway.”
“Ah,” Rebecca said. “Rush hour.”
After they had given the waiter their drink orders, Troy motioned the others to lean a little towards him. “I have an idea. I could rent a Porsche for a couple of days, and we could smuggle you guys out of the hotel at night and go for a drive.”
“Martin and I are leaving for Paris tomorrow,” Dagmar said regretfully.
“Are there any Porsches that seat more than two?” Rebecca asked, one eyebrow raised.
“Or seat guys as tall as this?” Ute added.
“Hm. You have a point there. A Mercedes then.”
Hans and Rudy nodded, smiling again.
Perhaps Troy could give them a little something back for what they had given him.
“Jackson, what were you doing drinking immense amounts of beer on CNN?”
“I was trying to talk with the aliens, Sir.”
“Looked to me more like you were trying to get drunk with them.”
“We were posing for the camera crews, Sir.”
“Posing for the camera crews?”
“If I can’t get the aliens to the U.S. as quickly as we want, at least I can get media attention showing that we also have influence with them.”
“And did you manage to persuade them how important we are to their interests?”
“There were several German nationals at the table, Sir.”
“So that means no?”
“Jackson, I want some results. Soon. You’re not the only one there in Stuttgart, you know.” With a start, Troy noticed that the president had pronounced it “Shtootgaart.” “I have other sources of information.”
“Not tomorrow, today. Have you got that?”
“Yes, Sir. Not tomorrow, today.”
Even though it was already tomorrow here in Germany.
Hans and Rudy were dressed in long raincoats with hoods and mufflers when Troy met them in the lobby with Rebecca. Even as unnaturally tall as the aliens were, the personnel on night shift hardly looked up when the four of them left the building.
“I parked the car up the street a bit to the right,” Troy said. He was having problems getting his most recent conversation with the president out of his mind; perhaps this outing would help.
It took them a while to get out of town, but once they were on the Autobahn to Munich, Troy pushed the pedal to the metal, and they flew.
“Unroll your window so you can feel the wind,” he suggested.
Hans and Rudy took his advice and let the wind rush past their bald scalps. Since he couldn’t hear anything with the wind rushing through the car, he glanced in the rearview mirror and saw that they were smiling.
“Thank you, Troy,” Hans said when they brought them back to their hotel suite.
“Now we understand a little why the people of your planet worship the automobile.”
Troy laughed and they all said goodnight.
“Let me drive you home,” he said to Rebecca.
“Thanks. I don’t think my streetcar goes anymore this time of night.”
“Look, Rebecca,” he said as they were getting in the Mercedes again. “I’ve been wondering if you might be willing to also act as our interpreter during the day. I don’t much care for the one we have now.”
She laughed. “What, because she lets you know she doesn’t think your word is law?”
Troy gave her a startled look. He had thought Rebecca liked him.
“Don’t get me wrong, Troy. You’re a nice enough guy, but I don’t want to be your lackey. I’ve seen the way you shove your briefcase and raincoat in poor Sarah’s arms when you’re going somewhere.”
He stared at the dark street, concentrating on the road rather than the words.
“Besides,” Rebecca continued, “I don’t do 24/7. This gig alone is going to keep me in beer and pretzels for the next year at least. I shouldn’t even be doing this job in the first place –– I certainly don’t have any diplomacy skills.”
“That was one of the reasons I wanted you,” Troy murmured. “I trust what you say.”
Rebecca sighed. “Well, Troy, I’m afraid I don’t trust what you say. You are such a politician, it’s unreal. To me, at least.”
He pulled up in front of the art nouveau building where Rebecca lived.
“Thanks,” she said as she opened the door and got out.
“No, Rebecca, thank you.”
She looked at him quizzically, smiled, and slammed the door.
So she thought he was unreal, did she? The unreal was something very different. In the last few days he’d had the chance, the opportunity, to experience the unreal, and it was nothing like being a politician, pulling strings in Washington.
Exhilarating. Liberating. Surrounded by cigarette smoke and wearing a Grateful Dead T–shirt.
“Status report, Jackson?”
“I haven’t had any time with the aliens today, Sir.”
Pause. “What’s your estimate of the situation?”
“Are these aliens for us or against us?”
“I don’t believe the aliens are interested in taking sides, Sir.”
“Everyone takes sides, Jackson. Remember that.”
“Yes, Sir, I will.”
When Troy sought out the aliens, they were glued to their TV.
And they were not making any wheezing laughter noises.
“Ah, Troy, join us!” Rudy said, patting the couch next to him. Another incredibly human gesture.
Troy sat down between the two aliens and watched as a convoy of mobile homes and trailer trucks filed across the Southwest in search of salvation from the stars.
“The people of your planet do not take it well that we are here, do they?” Hans said, even quieter than usual.
“No, they don’t.”
“And the leader of your country?” Rudy asked softly.
Troy paused. What would the president do with them, these researchers who wouldn’t cooperate? According to the president’s world view, not cooperating was equivalent to posing a threat.
If they’re not for us, they’re against us.
With paranoia now sanctioned by law, who knew what the inner circle would come up with if they decided Hans and Rudy and Dagmar and Martin were against them.
He took a deep breath. “No, he does not take it well either. He’s inclined to consider you enemies.”
“Enemies?” Two pairs of large, dark alien eyes stared at him.
“He says if you are not for us, you are against us.”
“Earth is not ready for our visit, is it?”
Troy shook his head. “No, I’m afraid not.”
Hans let out a wheezing sigh. “It is unfortunate. I enjoy your world.”
Troy looked them in the eye. “I do too –– most of the time.”
The aliens left so suddenly, there wasn’t even time for political reaction to their plans.
Although of course the media was there.
Obviously Hans and Dagmar and Rudy and Martin had learned something while on Earth. With the news crews surrounding them and the cameras running, they posed in front of their elegant silver spacecraft, facing their audience.
“Hasta la vista,” Dagmar said, waving, and led the way into the spacecraft.
The last one in was Hans. He turned at the door and gave the cameras a thin–lipped, alien smile. “We’ll be back.”
Troy and Sarah watched the broadcast from their suite in Le Meridien while Walt and Andy were in the lobby checking out. The doors of the spacecraft sealed shut behind the future, Troy rose and turned off the TV.
“Shall we go?”
Sarah nodded and got up. Troy picked up his trench coat and briefcase and was about to hand them to her, when he stopped in mid–movement. She had begun reaching for his things automatically, and they both stood there, frozen, staring at each other.
At the same time, they began to laugh.
Trench coat over his shoulder and briefcase in hand, Troy led the way. When they reached the door to the suite, he opened and waved Sarah through.
“After you, my dear.”
She shook her head, still laughing, and preceded him through the door.
Troy gave one last look around the room and closed the door behind him.
Ruth Nestvold’s (www.ruthnestvold.com) short fiction has appeared in numerous markets, including Asimov’s, F&SF, Realms of Fantasy, Baen’s Universe, Strange Horizons, and several Year’s Best anthologies. Her novella “Looking Through Lace” made the short list for the Tiptree award and was nominated for the Sturgeon award. In 2007, the Italian translation won the “Premio Italia” award for best international work. Her novel “Flamme und Harfe” (Flame and Harp) will be coming out in translation from the German imprint of Random House in January 2009.
Story © 2008 Ruth Nestvold. All other content copyright © 2008 ByrenLee Press
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