Jogging Alien’s Guide to
By Ronald D. Ferguson
“GOOD VACATION?” ASKED Press Secretary Ben Shankly.
“Fabulous, refreshed,” said Calvin Bridge, Assistant Undersecretary of State. “Come in. I have some video.”
Calvin shut the door and clicked on the monitor.
With growing disbelief, Ben watched. “Is he running?”
“He’s not running,” Calvin said. “Watch the Marine escort. He’s moving at their pace.”
“An illusion. Examine his legs about knee high.”
“Damn.” Ben leaned forward. “His knees bend the wrong way.”
“Technically, those aren’t knees. They’re like a goat’s hind legs. We suspect extra bones in the feet for flexibility. His ankle bends at our knee position. His knee is closer to those muscular hips. The structure gives his stride a hitch like jogging. He’s not from this planet.”
Calvin clicked off the monitor. He leaned back in his chair.
Ben shifted to newsman mode and composed headlines in his head. “Does the alien have a name? Where’s he from? Why did he land in the U.S.?”
Calvin puckered his mouth. “Klaatu used a demographic algorithm to select our country. His calculations say we’re still number one.”
“Klaatu?” The name sounds familiar. “Like in The Day the Earth Stood Still?”
“He saw the original movie, and that gave him the idea of how to communicate with us. Fortunately, this Klaatu didn’t land his saucer on the National Mall. He didn’t want a repeat of the shooting incident. Except for the blue skin, Klaatu looks like Michael Rennie. We don’t know whether that’s coincidence or planned. If he looked like Keanu Reeves ... well ...”
“A disguise sounds ominous,” Ben said. “Any threats? Any ultimatums? Is there a Gort?”
“Gort? The robot enforcer in the movie? I haven’t seen one. Like the movie, Klaatu sealed his saucer, and we can’t get inside.”
“With calm announcements, we can avoid second-coming headlines. Perhaps foreshadow with alien radio signals and then build to the landing over six months.”
“Prepare a press release, Ben, but only for backup.” Calvin paced to the window. “We want this visit kept secret. No hysteria, especially during the economic doldrums. It’s an election year.”
“Don’t kid me. Alien Visits Earth is the story of the century. A great distraction from the incompetent congress and struggling President. How long must I sit on the story? President Shakes Hands with Alien is a great October surprise. An interplanetary endorsement couldn’t hurt except with the anti-immigrant crowd, and they always vote the other party.”
“Alien technology will allow us to leapfrog other countries.” Calvin smacked his lips. “We’ll trade for their technology, something Klaatu wants or needs. Publicity might interfere with negotiations. Other nations will assume, and rightly so, that alien technology has military implications. We may need to keep the visit secret forever.”
“Forever?” For the fifty-seventh time since becoming News Secretary, Ben wished he were back in the private sector. A job as a propaganda pundit on cable news paid ten times his current salary without the secrecy hassle. “Why did you tell me? I’ve got no deniability. My reputation—”
“Calm down, Ben. I had no choice. Klaatu made an unexpected request, and it involves you. As a security matter, we must keep Klaatu happy. Remember, you’re bound by the secrecy statutes.”
Ben ignored the implied threat. He had no problem keeping secrets, but when public speculation intensified, he could better deny rumors if he was ignorant. “My specialty is public relations. You say there will be no public relations. I don’t see how ...”
Calvin folded his hands with index fingers extended and tapped the extended fingers against his lips. He paused and flattened his hands atop his desk. “Klaatu is curious—well, we aren’t sure what he’s curious about—but he expressed a desire ... Desire isn’t the best word ...”
“For God’s sake, spit it out.”
“Your daughter visited your office two days ago. Klatuu saw her on a hall monitor.”
Nonplussed, Ben repeated the obvious. “My daughter Emily?”
“You have only one daughter.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Emily is a single woman, thirty-six years old? Teaches second grade, moved back in with you when the economy tanked?”
“Thirty-four, but yes and yes.” Ben felt uneasy; he couldn’t fathom Calvin’s purpose.
“Old enough that we don’t need your permission. Klaatu would like to spend a few hours alone with your daughter, perhaps this Friday evening?”
“For what purp—” Ben’s face flushed. His stomach churned.
“Like a date,” Calvin said. “Klaatu has been in space a very long time.”
“Like a date!” An off-world alien with his baby! Ben panicked.
Too late to think fast.
Then think good. My God, just think of something.
Calvin tapped his fingers on the desk. “You’re not prejudiced are you, Ben? Interracial dating is—”
“Interracial dating? There’s no racial aspect. The guy’s a different species. Cats courting canaries. Alien says Take Me to Your Women. What a headline.” Ben waved his finger at Calvin’s nose. “It’ll get out. The news always leaks out.”
“Don’t shout, Ben, and no threats.” Calvin stood. “I know you pretty well. If she weren’t your daughter ...”
“Well, she is my daughter. This alien could be a dangerous pervert. For God’s sake, he’s from a whole other planet.”
“Yes, in another star system, Ben. He could give us interstellar travel.” Calvin clicked on the monitor. “Look at him—and I use the word him with reservation—except for the hips, Klaatu is anorexic thin. Those skin-tight clothes hide no suggestive bulges. He could be female. I’ll bet the species is androgynous and reproduces using test tubes. Give you odds. What could your daughter fear from something so genderless?”
“Have you never seen a fireman unroll a hose from inside a wall?” Ben pounded his fist on Calvin’s desk. “He’s an alien! We don’t know what to expect.”
“Perhaps your daughter is too busy to meet a spaceman? Does she already have a Friday-night date?”
“That’s a low blow, Calvin.” Emily was no candle flame to attract male moths, but she was sweet and wonderful. Damn it, she was Ben’s daughter to protect, especially against pampered visitors from other worlds.
“Your daughter is patriotic, Ben. She’ll jump at the chance to serve her country. We’re sure of it. We’ll give her junior diplomat status.”
Damn. They’d already asked her. Calvin was right. Emily would go without considering the risks.
Ben paced. Straws. He needed straws to grasp at. He popped a blood pressure pill. Where the hell were the straws?
He unclenched his fists and glared at Calvin. “Serve is not the best description, Calvin. Didn’t you see the Twilight Zone episode To Serve Man?”
“Never watched the show. Lack of imagination makes my job easier. Calm down. Just because your daughter is overweight, doesn’t mean Klaatu plans to bake her with an apple in her mouth.”
“Again, an uncalled for remark.” Ben’s rage dulled to frustration. “What about a Marine chaperone?”
“Klaatu insists they be alone, like a real Earth date. Three hours is about right for an evening out.”
Ben saw no way to win. He switched to negotiations. “Two hours.”
“Two and a half.”
Ben felt like some guy in an alley just sold him a counterfeit iPod. Pod? Now, he imagined pod people. “Done, but I get to meet the guy first.”
“He expects that. Three minutes with Klaatu before the date just as if he came to your house to pick her up, but no shotgun threats from you, Ben. All our jobs are at stake.”
At 7:51 p.m. Friday night in the back of a black limousine, Ben sat between Emily and Calvin. He wielded a crumpled picture like a sword before he thrust it at Calvin. “They’ve been to Earth before. Look at the picture. Isn’t that Klaatu?”
Emily stared out the window.
“Pan, Greek god of shepherds.” Calvin appeared unperturbed. “I’ve seen this picture and another hundred like it. The top half is a man, the bottom half is a goat. The Greeks called him a faun, but Klaatu’s legs are not furred like that, and he has no horns on his head.”
“He shaved his legs.”
“We’re not stupid, Ben. Our analysts immediately made the form connection. We calculate less than a three percent probability that Klaatu’s people are related to the Greek fauni.”
“Yeah, well, the Romans called them satyrs, even when they looked like Michael Rennie.”
“The Greeks had satyrs first, but they weren’t half-goat, they were all human. The Romans confounded satyrs with fauni. They didn’t model satyrs on aliens. Look it up.”
“I did look it up, but how did you ...? Never mind.” Ben lowered his voice. “Did you know that the Roman satyrs were notorious for, er ... um, well,” Ben nodded his head several times toward Emily, “um, you know ... ravishing and that sort of stuff?”
“Dad,” Emily said. “We all know what you are talking about. You’re getting hysterical for no reason. I can take care of myself. It’s just a date.”
“If it’s just a date, young lady, why didn’t you dress more modestly?”
“I love this dress. Mr. Bridge took me to Nieman Marcus this afternoon. Nieman Marcus, Dad. The government paid for the dress, but I get to keep it.” She fluffed her hair. “They paid for my makeover and the hairdo, too.”
The buyoff was sprung. Ben glared at Calvin.
“Tell your daughter how pretty she looks,” Calvin whispered.
Ben clenched his teeth but squeezed out, “You’re beautiful, sweetheart.”
The limousine pulled off the road near a wooded area of Camp David. Five identical black limousines waited in the adjacent parking lot.
Calvin announced the obvious. “We’re here.”
Ben opened his mouth, but Calvin silenced him with a raised hand and an inclined chin.
“Remember the protocol,” Calvin said. “Ben will escort Emily to her date. Klaatu will meet you at that bench, the one near the pathway into the woods. Pay attention, Ben. Spend no more than three minutes with Klaatu. Three minutes only or security will remove you. Behave yourself and you can wait in the parking lot until Emily returns from her date. Emily, honey, please remain in the car until your dad opens your door. Ben, follow me.”
Calvin led Ben out the opposite door, drooped a loose arm about his shoulder, and guided him to the rear of the car.
“I just have some words of reassurance for you, Ben. I’ve spent a lot of time with Klaatu. He told me about their reproduction. Our speculations were right-on. They only use sex indirectly. Most births come from batches of test-tube clones based on each individual fertilization. Klaatu has a half-dozen identical twins from his birth batch. So, your fears are groundless. Think of your country. What your daughter does tonight could give us a technological advantage over all other countries. Now, open the door for Emily and wish her a wonderful evening.”
Far from mollified, Ben opened the car door. Batches sounded fine, but Calvin had not explained the mechanics of the fertilization. What else was he hiding?
Ben took Emily’s hand and helped her from the car. She gripped his arm and smiled with the eye twinkle that had imprisoned his heart when he first saw her thirty-four years ago. They walked towards the bench.
Here was his last chance to talk her out of the meeting. “You don’t have to do this, Sweetheart. No one will think less of you if you change your mind.” Trite. Banal. Couldn’t he think of something original to say, something compelling?
“I’d think less of me, Dad. You always say carpe diem. This is my big opportunity to seize the day. I’m now a junior diplomat, and I, Emily Shankly, elementary school teacher, get to talk privately with a man from the stars. Who could imagine that? Please don’t worry. I want to do this.”
My big mouth, thought Ben, why hadn’t I told her that carpe diem meant “fish of the day?”
Ben and Emily arrived at the bench.
With no time left, Ben chewed his lower lip. His profession was juggling words, but all words abandoned him.
The door of the nearest limousine opened. A tall Marine stepped out. After a moment, Klaatu emerged. Ben winced when the alien jogged towards them. Calvin was right. Except for the blue tinge, the alien’s face was a ringer for Michael Rennie.
Like Rennie’s smooth baritone, Klaatu’s voice was calm, warm, and clear. “Good evening, Mr. Shankly. Hello, Emily. I’m pleased to meet you both.”
Klaatu bowed to Emily and extended his hand to Ben.
Emily smiled. She seemed charmed. Ben had never seen her smile at a man like that before. Well, he still had never seen her smile at a man like that.
“I’m pleased to meet you, too,” Emily said.
Ben hesitated and then took Klaatu’s hand. The alien’s hand had six fingers and returned a firm—if too high-metabolism warm—grip.
Ben said, “Mr. Klaatu—”
“Please, Mr. Shankly, just Klaatu.”
“I have one question for you.” Ben extracted his hand from Klaatu’s grasp. “Hundreds of girls are in and out of our offices every day, yet you chose my daughter. Why?”
Klaatu looked directly at Emily. He ran his eyes from her head to her toes and back again. Emily blushed.
The alien smiled and directed his attention to Ben. “I think the reasons should be obvious to anyone, Mr. Shankly.”
Ben could contain himself no longer. He lunged at Klaatu and seized him by the throat. “You sorry son of a batch! I’ll—”
The Marine guard tased Ben, and paralyzed, he dropped to the ground. A cold, sharp sting signaled an injection into his neck.
“Dad!” Emily’s voice sounded strangely distant.
“Don’t worry, Miss. He’ll be fine. You go on your date, now, and we’ll ...” The Marine’s voice faded.
Purposeful hands hoisted Ben and dragged him back to the limousine. He tried to struggle, but by the time they slammed the door behind him, he had trouble remembering why.
Two Marines and a medical technician watched Ben recover in nearby quarters. The 10:30 p.m. end-of-date deadline approached and passed without a word from Emily. Delirious with worry, Ben’s mind played macabre word games: End-of-Date, End-of-Days—what was the difference? If he couldn’t strangle Klaatu, perhaps he could strangle Calvin. For the first time that day, Ben smiled.
By midnight, Ben restlessly paced the room. At just past 1:00 a.m., the medical technician answered his cell phone.
“Yes, Sir, Mr. Bridge. I understand. Yes, Sir.” The technician looked at Ben. “No, Sir. He’s not. Yes, Sir. Say again. Yes, Sir.”
Ben could stand it no longer. “Was that about my daughter? When can I see her?”
“I’m sorry, Sir.” The technician withdrew a hypodermic from his shirt pocket and removed the needle cap. “Mr. Bridge says not to discuss your daughter until you receive a mild tranquilizer.”
“Keep that thing away from me.” Ben doubled his hands into fists. Calvin had lost all perspective. How could any man do this to a father? “Take me to my daughter, now.”
The technician stepped back and glanced toward the Marines. “I will not force you to take the tranquilizer, but I will not discuss your daughter with you, nor will we take you to her until you accept the drug.”
Frustration flooded over Ben. His heart raced. His ears pulsed. The day was already far too long, and he was tired from the previous sleepless nights. Exhaustion overcame him, and he surrendered with a nod of his head. The technician stepped forward and efficiently administered the injection.
“My daughter ...”
“Please wait five minutes. Are you still foggy from the Taser? Try some aspirin.” The technician retrieved the aspirin from a bedside table. “Mr. Bridge says that your daughter is doing quite well, so you needn’t be concerned. We will take you to see her now, and I’ll tell you what little I know on the way. Do you want water?”
Ben chewed the two aspirins without water and picked up his jacket. “Where are we going?”
The technician’s voice remained professionally bland. “To the hospital.”
A rerun of “The Midwich Cuckoos” flashed through Ben’s mind.
Calvin met Ben in the hall outside of a hospital room on the third floor. Two Marines guarded the door.
“Where is she?” Ben demanded.
“She’s dressing.” Calvin rested a restraining hand on Ben’s chest. “She insists on going home, but we would like to keep her under observation overnight. Perhaps you can persuade her to cooperate.”
“The sooner I get her away from you bastards, the better. I always thought well of you, Calvin, but this alien business has changed you. Is that her room?”
Calvin grabbed Ben’s arm and nodded towards two Marines near the door. “I think you need a little preparation. Emily’s had a shock, and your hysteria won’t help.”
“What did he do to her?” Ben regarded Calvin with horror.
“Well, we don’t know exactly what, or precisely how, but Klaatu insists he meant no harm. Ben, I know him, and I believe him. He saw an opportunity for fresh nourishment—”
“He’s a vampire!” Ben shouted. He pushed past Calvin and struggled toward the room.
“Don’t be silly, Ben. He’s not a vampire, and he’s not a ghoul, either.” Calvin signaled the Marines to let Ben pass and then shrugged. “He’s just an entrepreneur.”
“Oh, my God!” Ben barged through the door. “Emi—”
A svelte young woman stood naked with her back to the door. She watched herself in the full-length wall mirror on the bathroom door.
Wrong room. Calvin had tricked him. Ben averted his eyes. “I’m sorry. I thought my daughter was in here.”
“Dad?” The woman turned from the mirror and quickly slipped into a thin robe.
The woman was Emily, fifty pounds lighter and glowing like an athlete in training. She ran her hands along the striking contours beneath her robe as if she thought that it all was a mirage that would soon vanish.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Calvin dropped a friendly arm over Ben’s shoulder as if he were closing a business deal. “You were right in some respects, Ben. We think Klaatu can uncoil a tube from inside his abdomen that ... well, consider an absolutely painless liposuction in which injected digestive enzymes not only dissolve the fat for consumption, but actually tone the muscles and tighten the skin. What a magnificent symbiosis. At last, dining that is as good for the dinner as for the diner.”
Calvin had gone mad. Ben realized his mouth hung open. Stunned, he closed it.
“Money always supersedes secrecy, so I need you to prepare a press release.” Calvin patted his shoulder and led him from the room. “Properly privatized, this fat-extraction business will be a multi-trillion dollar industry. That’s trillion with a T, Ben. Klaatu says your daughter was absolutely delicious, unlike anything he had tasted in any solar system. We can charge Klaatu’s people for each meal they take while visiting our system—a kind of interstellar, fast-food saucer-through. Hey, a flying saucer atop a tall poll would make a great sign. At the same time, we charge the dinner—for publicity purposes, the patient—to painlessly remove the fat.”
“Did they give you the technology you wanted?”
“Not yet. First, they have to simplify the technology so that we can understand it, but Ben, the economic doldrums are over, and prosperity is on the horizon. No one will have to worry anymore about what they eat. We’ll be able cut taxes in half while the nation’s health improves. Even better, re-election is a shoo-in. Imagine us thriving off the fat of the land. The President has ordered food manufacturers to increase the amount of high fructose corn syrup thirty percent in all products to increase production. He’s declared sumo wrestling to be our national sport. Fat people have become a national resource, and we’re already number one there, too. Who in this country could be against that? Tell me, Ben, whadaya think?”
Dairy herd. The country would become one giant milk shake for galactic travelers. With trepidation, Ben considered the Gort-like gleam of madness that slid from side to side in Calvin’s eye.
What did Ben think? Klaatu chose to land in the U.S. by a complex algorithm, my ass. He picked us because we’re the most overweight nation in the world.
Ben grasped at his last straw against the economic tsunami and recalled Michael Rennie’s mysterious plea to Gort to spare the Earth. “Klaatu barada nikto?”
Calvin only smiled more broadly.
My God, did the words mean “franchises available?”
Ronald D. Ferguson is an active member of the SFWA. His short fiction has appeared in “Daily Science Fiction,” “Nature,” “The Universe Annex,” NewMyths.com,” and elsewhere. He lives with his wife and a dog near the shadow of the Alamo.