Trust Us: We’re Aliens
By Chet Gottfried
ON AN EARLY SPRING DAY in the center of Pennsylvania, Otis Braddock and Louise Wallace stood together beneath an apple tree and had a clear view of her farm’s southern fields. Row after row of newly sprouting spaceships had broken through soil and patches of snow. The young ships gleamed in the sunlight.
Otis touched her arm.
Louise didn’t turn toward Otis.
“In the past, yes, but over the years and through the work of my grandfather, my parents, and me as molecular biologists and geneticists, we modified skunk weed to be perfectly functional spaceships. Disparage it all you want, but skunk weed is one of the earliest sprouting plants, and we made use of its extended growing time to raise a perfectly functional crop of spaceships.”
“Whatever your family’s achievements, your organic ships are nowhere as popular as those grown from Gorway’s seed. People want luxury, and yours don’t have that. Yours are lucky if they include a microwave in the galley.”
Louise continued studying her fields.
“People can take sandwiches.”
“Be serious, Louise.”
“From Mom, I’ve inherited my nose. From Dad, I inherited his holdings on Mars. And from both I inherited my farm, which I intend to manage exactly the way they did. They grew organic ships, and so will I.”
Otis slowly shook his head. “Your nose is superb.” He thought all of her superb: tall and shapely, red hair and green eyes. “Everyone who bought land on Mars has come to regret it, but there’s no reason why your farm couldn’t be a success. Gorway’s stuff has a higher germination rate and grows faster than yours. It takes one of your seeds two years to become a ship capable of reaching Titan. A Gorway’s ship requires one season to do the same. Let’s face it: You lose thirty percent of your crop to pests or malfunctions.”
Her nostrils flared, if ever so slightly, just the way her mother’s did when angry or annoyed. He thought it a pity that her parents died in the crash. The accident hardened Louise, who had become less open to change, but it also made her a remarkable catch, should she agree to marry him.
“You needn’t have mentioned that, Otis.”
“Surely I’ve a right to say as much. I’m looking after your best interests. Gorway seeds are your best bet for getting out of debt.”
Louise looked directly at him for the first time that afternoon.
“The answer is no.”
“I’m sorry, Louise, but I am your banker, and you are late with your mortgage payment. You know that I’ll bend the rules for you, but ...”
“All I need is another week to gather and bottle the first batch of this year’s honey.”
“Maybe, but there are better ways of earning money, which is why I brought the alien with me.”
“A Midoch. I left him in my Civic, but he can see us from there.” Otis waved to someone whose profile through the open window was barely visible.
“I haven’t run across any of those. Are they like the Turians?”
He shook his head. “In New York or Philadelphia or even Pittsburgh, you would’ve seen a Midoch, but not here in Huntingdon. Midochs are city aliens.”
The Midoch exited the car, closed the door, and began walking toward them.
“He looks human but somewhat young for being bald,” she said, “unless it’s a fashion statement.”
Otis leaned toward her and spoke rapidly and in an undertone.
“Don’t be deceived by his suit. Midochs aren’t the least human and don’t have any relationship to any known animal species on Earth, but they’re friendly enough.”
Louise turned to meet the alien, caught her foot on a tree root, and fell toward Otis. He reached out and grabbed her, but was off-balance, and they both tumbled. He landed on his back, and she head-butted the Midoch’s chest. Otis pushed himself into a sitting position, while Louise stayed on her hands and knees. The Midoch had gone to pieces—literally.
Numerous green chunks of Midoch chittered as they swarmed all around the Midoch’s clothing.
“What the ...?” Louise exclaimed.
Otis got to his feet.
“I meant to tell you. A Midoch consists of compound creatures who assemble into whatever life form they choose. They do so to blend in, but apparently, it doesn’t take much to break them apart.”
While Otis and Louise watched, the green oddities dived back into the three-piece suit the Midoch was wearing. Otis didn’t know which was worse. To watch the creatures squirming on the ground or to see the clothing shift into the resemblance of a human.
“Clothing makes the man,” Otis said.
Louise slowly stood up.
“Is it okay?”
“I hope so.”
The frenetic activity ceased while the Midoch, after reassembling himself, lay flat on his back. The green features transformed into a human-hued face.
“Polynesian?” Louise asked.
Otis shrugged. “Maybe they thought Polynesians are more attractive than other humans.”
He helped the Midoch up, and the alien cleared his throat. “I, or we, regret the mishap.”
“That’s all right,” Louise said. “Of course, it’s not something I expect to see in Pennsylvania, but there’s nothing like a new experience to enliven the day.” She took a deep breath. “Are you okay?”
The alien brushed some dirt off one sleeve. “I’m fine.”
Otis smiled. “All in a day’s work. Ms. Wallace, allow me to present Mr. Windstrong.” Otis gingerly patted Windstrong on the arm. “Don’t let her farmer outfit fool you. Ms. Wallace is Earth’s top independent geneticist.” It bothered Otis that the aliens had taken human names. “I’m putting together an informal meeting at my mother’s home in Altoona, so you won’t have far to drive. Mr. Windstrong has an interesting business proposal that he’ll be discussing on Sunday afternoon.”
Windstrong and Louise shook hands.
“How do you do, Ms. Wallace.” Windstrong’s voice wasn’t particularly different from anyone else’s voice except for a trace of a New York accent.
Louise blinked rapidly. “A proposal? Does that mean investors? I don’t have any money to invest.”
Windstrong’s smile moved uneasily across his face, as if the gesture were as unfamiliar to him as wearing a human body.
“We’re not seeking your money but your support, Ms. Wallace.”
“Because we want to rent your Sun.”
“I’m referring to the star which your planet orbits. We want to rent it.”
On Sunday, Otis met Louise outside the front door of his mother’s home. She hugged him, kissed his cheek, and he sighed inwardly. He felt they should have progressed further than that after having several dates. He put the thought behind him because he knew Louise would marry him—eventually.
“I’m glad you could make it.”
“I’m not late? Traffic was horrible.”
“Not at all. Everyone is still settling, and the everyone is only eight other people. Apparently, some consider the matter to be out of this world, which it is. But you should recognize those who arrived, including Ted Hansen.”
She grimaced. “Why him?”
“He has money and wants more, but cheer up. Mother has baked a lemon meringue for the occasion and has prepared coffee from organic beans.”
“Oh? I remember her pies to be somewhat runny.”
“Not this one.” Otis escorted Louise inside.
In the living room, Louise exchanged greetings and nods with everyone. Otis thought the atmosphere sufficiently friendly, inasmuch as Sam Mayer, Joan Matthews, and Marcia Smith all had farms not too far from Louise’s.
Otis led Louise to a sofa, and she sat next to pot-bellied Phil Brady, an old gent who sunk into anything soft and stayed put. Otis’ mother brought Louise a plate with a slice of pie, a fork balanced to one side, and a saucer with a cup of coffee.
Windstrong stood behind a table that had two posters mounted on easels. One poster showed the solar system, the other a corporate flowchart. Behind the Midoch was an oversize screen, which at present had a photo of the Sun. Otis introduced Windstrong, who bowed slightly and began talking.
“SolCorp has an environmentally sound solution for advanced waste reduction. Our method is simple. We send everything requiring disposal into the Sun. Incineration is total and absolute. No one need worry about chemical byproducts leaching into the soil anywhere on Earth. It is a safe and proven technology. However, Earth governments, including the United States, have raised objections. I regret to say that despite the U.N., your governments do have a problem when it comes to working together. I hope to begin solving this problem here and among you.”
Otis first heard Windstrong in Philadelphia, and talked with the alien afterward. Impressed by both the concept and the means of newfound wealth, Otis had earlier set up private showings in Harrisburg and State College.
The Midochs ran into the obstacle of trying to bring governments into agreement, gave up on the prospect, and resorted to their treaty with Earth, the Pacific Accord. If the Midochs had a petition signed by ten million property-owning residents of Earth, the project could go through, as long as it didn’t break any existing laws, and no one had anything on the statute books about renting the Sun.
In return for a signature, the Midochs through SolCorp would either pay the signer a thousand dollars or assign shares in their company. Most people opted for the cash, but a few, including Otis, saw it as an opportunity to buy additional shares and go for long-term profits. He also received a commission for the number of people he brought into the organization.
Ted Hansen asked the first question.
“How much garbage does Earth possess to make your venture profitable?”
Windstrong waved his arms enthusiastically.
“We’re not limiting our services to Earth or your solar system but to the entire arm of the galaxy. Many civilizations on countless planets will pay handsomely for garbage removal, which includes sensitive information for which total destruction is a must.”
“Why the Sun?” Sam Mayer asked. “There are plenty of other stars you could use.”
Windstrong clicked a button and the screen behind him displayed the countless stars on the arm of the galaxy.
“And so there are. However, allow me to point out that any star not the basis of a planetary civilization is already owned by other civilizations. The truth is sad but absolute. Both my civilization and yours have been too late to take advantage of the real estate offerings in space. Show me a mere rock a thousand kilometers in diameter and drifting alone, and I’ll show you a receipt of ownership. Consequently, we negotiate with civilizations to come to a satisfactory arrangement.
“Bear in mind the limitations we face. Primitive worlds would react in horror to our appearance, whereas most advanced civilizations have developed their own stellar disposal techniques. We Midochs rely on finding a sophisticated civilization, such as yours—one advanced enough to understand our procedure but not advanced enough to go it alone—in order to benefit all parties.”
“Why not use your own star or stars?” Sam asked.
“We’ve only the one star, on our home system, and it is presently operating at capacity. Hence our need to find an alternative.”
Marcia Smith burped. “If you’ve the means to transport garbage inexpensively, why not dump all the junk into a black hole?”
Windstrong nodded. “The basis of our system is having cheap and efficient matter transmitters. They represent the first stage of destruction, since the near-instantaneous transfer corrupts molecules. As for the second part, making use of a black hole, yes, we tried that—and wound up on the wrong side of a galactic lawsuit. Whereas one can depend on a black hole capturing 99.99 percent of anything, it also has unfortunate side effects, such as a document ending up in a different time and place. For instance, after we sent a highly secret treaty into a black hole, it became public knowledge when the treaty reappeared only ten light-years from the interested parties. Truly, a most embarrassing—and expensive—experience. Trust me: stellar incineration is by far the most preferred and effective method.”
“How much garbage is there to make the venture profitable?”
“It is amazing what accumulates and what one must later clear out.” Windstrong chuckled. “For one civilization, it’s paper, and for another, it’s statues. A third may wish to wipe out everything to do with a former regime, and if it includes pyramids, that’s bulk of the first class. Garbage removal is one of the basic tenets of life throughout the galaxy.”
“What happens to the Sun with all that stuff going into it?” Sam asked.
Holding out his hands upward and empty, Windstrong said, “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Your Sun’s mass is approximately two to the thirtieth power kilograms. It would take over a million Earths to be the equivalent. We will limit the absolute disposal into the Sun of a thousandth of Earth’s mass, or a billionth of the Sun’s. There is no way that such small amounts would affect your Sun one way or another. Stellar incineration is the safest method of disposal known to the galaxy.”
The presentation was going well, Otis thought, and then he overheard Phil Brady talking to Louise.
“Mr. Windstrong is a fascinating speaker,” Phil said.
Louise nodded. “Truly.”
“Yes, you seem particularly interested.”
“What makes you say that?” she asked.
“You’re spilling your coffee on my leg.”
Louise jerked her coffee cup away from Phil and dumped half the remaining liquid on his lap. She apologized profusely, and in doing so, the runny lemon meringue spilled over Phil.
Various people began talking over each other while producing napkins to swob Phil, who stood up and excused himself.
“I think I’ll go home now.”
Otis stepped forward. “There’s no need for that. A change of clothing—say, into something of mine—and you’ll be absolutely fine.”
Phil glanced at Otis’s waistline. “It’s not necessary. I’ll check in with you later, because I want to find out more about SolCorp.”
Everyone milled about, and Otis had the chance to ask Louise what she intended to do.
“I’ll sign of course.”
“For the shares?”
“No, the thousand dollars.”
In July, Otis went to the Altoona office of SolCorp. The receptionist at the front desk told him that he could find Louise down the hall by the fourth door.
Otis found the door, knocked, and walked in. Louise was sitting behind a desk and stapling papers together. She seemed surprised to see him.
“Hello, Otis, what brings you here?”
“I looked for you by the farm, but you weren’t there. Actually, that was the second time. The first I drove away, but I asked where you were, and a Midoch told me you were here, working for SolCorp. What gives? You never enjoyed working indoors, and I had a tough enough time getting you to fill out paperwork for your farm. And now you’re here? You’re working for them?”
“Did you know that the bees don’t bother Midochs? In exchange for a few aliens working on my farm, I agreed to help them. However brilliant they may be, you wouldn’t believe the number of forms necessary for Pennsylvania taxes as well as running a worldwide corporation with numerous subsidiaries.”
“When did you become an expert?”
“I’m not. But I help out, and they’re helping me.”
“Who’s tending your spaceships? Isn’t this the crucial time when ship systems grow in place?”
Louise hammered at the stapler.
“Maybe the paper bundles are too thick? Oh, who’s looking after the ships? The Midochs. They’ve a fine background for raising spaceships.”
Otis took three quick steps into the office, leaned forward, put his hands on the desk, and stared into her green eyes.
“There’s something you’re not telling me, Louise.”
Then Otis screamed. Louise had stapled his left hand to a sheath of papers.
“I’m sorry, Otis!” She jumped up and darted around the desk.
Windstrong rushed into the office.
“Are you okay, Louise?” He put his arms around her.
“I’m fine, Simon, but I’m afraid I’ve stapled Otis.”
Otis didn’t know which was more upsetting: being stapled or seeing the affection between the alien and his future wife. He blamed himself for not being up front with Louise about his feelings for her. He freed himself from the staple.
“It’s all right. It’s only a couple pinpricks of blood.”
Windstrong let go of Louise.
“Have you had a tetanus shot recently, Mr. Braddock?”
Otis wondered when Windstrong became “Simon” for Louise.
“I’m okay, and I sincerely doubt that Louise uses rusty staples.”
“No hard feelings?” she asked Otis.
“Of course not. Accidents happen.” He added to himself, particularly around Louise. It was something a person either got used to or looked for a different girlfriend.
“I’m glad to hear that,” Windstrong said, “because we reached stage one on our prospectus. We’ve completed the ring around the Sun, and we’re ready to begin testing the matter transmitters.”
Otis waved his hand behind his back. The sting from the staple was annoying.
“I meant to ask you about that. A number of astrophysicists and meteorologists have doubts about the venture. They’re claiming the ring is blocking sunlight from Earth, which affects farming everywhere, not to mention trees, the Amazon basin, and so forth.”
“There’ll always be xenophobes.”
Louise nodded vigorously. “All too true.”
“The point is,” Windstrong said, “the ring is only fifty meters deep. Any sunlight blocked is negligible, and even if the blocking were true, it would mitigate against the global warming your planet is experiencing. Now, if on the other hand, we placed the ring vertical, rather than parallel, to the orbital plane, you might have cause to complain. Reflected sunlight would increase global warming, although it would help Mars.”
“That won’t be necessary.” Louise gazed at Windstrong. “Martian projects are advancing with Midoch aid. Mars will have oceans within our lifetime.”
Otis began edging near the door.
“My concern is with SolCorp. Whether the allegations are true or false, share prices are falling.”
“That will change once we activate the disposal system,” Windstrong said.
Otis opened the office door. “I’ve heard that ships and satellites investigating the area around the ring are having difficulties. No one can retrieve any data from close observation, limiting observations to ships beyond Mercury’s orbit.”
“I thought that would be completely understandable.” Windstrong approached Otis and held out his hand. “We’ve trade secrets to protect and don’t wish competitors to gain an advantage over us.”
“Maybe, but it’s helping to spark rumors that are difficult to dispel.”
“Everything will be fine once our system goes into operation. Next year should see a healthy dividend for all our investors.”
Otis sincerely hoped so. He had sunk too much capital in SolCorp.
In early September, Otis drove next to Louise’s farmhouse and parked. He rested his head on the steering wheel for a minute and then checked his appearance in the rearview mirror. After smoothing his hair, Otis got out of his Civic. He had telephoned ahead to be sure she was home because this was his final chance. Mumbling to himself, he rehearsed everything he intended to say.
In the distance, the spaceships appeared ready for harvesting. He hoped that would put her in a good mood.
Before Otis could knock, Louise opened the door and joined him on the porch.
“Hello. It’s a fine day, isn’t it? The katydids are singing, or will be shortly, and the autumn evening is lovely. Just look at that sunset! Isn’t it glorious?”
He snorted under his breath, the last thing he wanted to do in front of her.
“Otis, what’s wrong? Do you want to come in and sit for a minute?”
“No, no, that won’t be necessary. What I have to say to you I can say in the open air—I want to talk outside, because the outdoors mean so much to both of us.”
Louise indicated a chair on the porch.
“Won’t you sit down? You look wrecked.”
“Me? Wrecked?” Otis paused for a minute. “That’s all too true. SolCorp is a bust, and so am I. I’ve lost all my investments in the company. The investigations are going into its methods and finances, and the word is malfeasance. They’ll be criminally liable for setting the Sun to nova by dumping too much garbage too fast. Oh, their claimed percentages are low enough, but it’s the rate at which the Midochs have accomplished this.”
“Surely you don’t believe the Sun will nova? That was a crank theory put forward by the same people who had insisted California would fall into the ocean.”
“It doesn’t matter what I believe or what you believe or what anyone believes. It depends on who presents what in court and whether twelve people will agree on the presentation, regardless of any facts. Anyway, it has caught up with me, and I’m leaving Earth for Mars for a fresh start—and I want you to come with me. I can raise enough money so that we can both live comfortably there.”
“If the Sun will nova, it doesn’t matter where in the solar system you go. You’d be dead.”
Otis wiped his face with a handkerchief. “No, I don’t believe that. I’m going along with majority thought: the Midoch dumping will cause a solar burp, a momentary increase in energy that will strip Earth of its oceans. Mars will be okay though. The calculations have proven that.”
“Listen, Otis, come in and sit down. You’re overwrought. Believe me, nothing is going to happen. Life will go on the way it always goes on. Politics will lurch to the right or left, people will hate other people, some will kill others, but overall, everyone will get along with one another. It’s our life story back in time and in our future.”
He followed her inside to the living room and relaxed on an easy chair.
“Would you like a drink?” Louise asked.
“Water will be fine.”
“Not even a beer?”
“Okay, a beer then. A Yuengling would be terrific.” His lips turned downward. “I’ll miss it. Yuengling doesn’t have a brewery on Mars.”
Louise left and returned in a minute.
“Thank you.” Otis took a long drink. “I meant what I said. I want you to come with me. You have land on Mars. I have money. Together we’ll be able to develop something worthwhile. People are emigrating in record numbers.”
“Tell me about it,” Louise sat on a wood chair opposite him. “I’ve had more advance ship purchases than ever before. They’re selling at a premium too. It’s like half the world is traveling to Mars. I bought the McMaster farm too. I need the additional acreage for next year’s crop.”
“It won’t do any good when the Sun burps. Wait a mo ... your ships haven’t sold yet. Where did you get the money?”
“I sold my Martian holdings. The Midochs paid an advantageous price.”
Windstrong strolled into the room, which shocked Otis. The alien wasn’t wearing a suit but jeans and a T-shirt. He seemed thoroughly at home. He didn’t have on any shoes, only a pair of socks. It became worse when he walked behind Louise and put his arm over her shoulders. She reached up, and they linked hands.
What was Otis to do? He couldn’t say what he came to say.
“The Sun won’t burp or exhibit any other type of aberrant behavior, Mr. Braddock.”
“Tell him, Simon.”
“Tell me what?” Otis asked.
Windstrong let go of Louise’s hand.
“I’m a little embarrassed.”
Louise stood up. “Very well. I’ll tell him. Otis, dear, SolCorp was a scam.”
“A what?” Otis shrieked.
“The Midochs never had the technology nor the intention of turning the Sun into a waste disposal. They made it look like it was, and in fact, the engineering was quite impressive. But they don’t have matter transmitters or any other means of transporting waste instantaneously. The Midochs have to use deep-space ships like everyone else, like we’ll be doing as our technology advances.”
Why hadn’t Otis seen that himself? The aliens were laughing at them the whole time.
“SolCorp shares then are worthless.”
“The thousand dollars we paid anyone who signed our petition was real, so there was some benefit.”
Otis realized the aliens’ plan. “You’re the ones behind the Martian Holding venture, the ones who bought all the Martian land. You set up SolCorp in order to create a massive real estate swindle. You bought the land cheap and are now selling it for record prices after people became terrified that the Sun would destroy Earth.”
“You needed colonists,” Windstrong said. “We inspired them.”
“So why are you still here on Earth?” Otis asked. “Shouldn’t you be going to Mars?”
Windstrong shook his head. “My place is here with Louise.”
Otis jumped to his feet. “Louise, how can you do this? ... with an alien?”
“He’s the man I’m going to marry.” Louise slapped Windstrong on the back, and his head flew forward and broke apart on the carpet. “Oh dear,” she said. “I haven’t done that in a while.”
They watched while the green creatures ran up Windstrong’s legs and torso and began settling into and forming his face.
Otis stormed to the front door and flung it open.
“It will never work. Your DNA is totally incompatible. You’ll never have any children. You might as well marry a carrot for all the good it would do.”
Windstrong’s face returned to normal, and he smiled at Otis.
“Sorry about that. It’s one of the little things we have to sort out while living together.”
Louise clapped her hands. “But you remained standing during the hiccup. Simon, I’m so proud of you.”
“No children!” Otis roared.
“Whoever said it’s about DNA?” The world’s foremost geneticist placed her arm around Windstrong’s waist and winked at Otis, who slammed the door on his way out.
Chet Gottfried is an active member of SFWA. ReAnimus Press has recently published four of his novels. His stories have appeared in “Space and Time Magazine,” “Jim Baen’s Universe,” and elsewhere. He is a frequent contributor to “Perihelion.”