Three years ago last Saturday, I am sweeping the floor in my kitchen, which by all accounts needs it badly after that party two nights before, when my attention is drawn by a rather unattractive sound outside, not unlike that made by the total destruction of an entire greenhouse.
Since I happen to be the owner of a greenhouse, of which I am more than somewhat fond, I am naturally dismayed by the prospects that this sound forces me to consider, and so I rush outside to see what has happened, and, if possible, to mortally injure the perpetrator of the happening.
However, when I arrive in the vicinity of a large amount of shattered glass and tomatoes in my back yard, it quickly becomes clear that the only mortal injuries liable to be dealt out in the near future are going to be dealt to me, and not by me; because the ones who have committed the crime are not ordinary schoolboys as I have been expecting. In fact I am quickly led to doubt whether they have ever even heard the word school—or, indeed, whether they could pronounce it if they had.
There are four of them, which I can readily accept. Each one appears to be of a different species, which I have somewhat more difficulty with. And none of these species comes within any definition of human that I have ever heard, which I find very hard to cope with indeed. In fact I am on the point of suddenly deciding that perhaps I could do without a greenhouse after all, when one of them extends an arm—at least that is what I think it is—and grabs me. By the throat.
You may suspect that by this time I am feeling slightly terrified. If this is indeed what you suspect, then I can tell you that you are quite correct. My mood is not helped by the fact that, moments later, the one who is holding me commences to shake me around violently and make odd trumpeting noises, not unlike, I might add, those made by my mother-in-law when she takes a bath. (From this you may draw your own conclusions.)
I eventually get the idea that they may be trying to communicate with me. As it happens I know a good deal about inter-species communications, mostly drawn from my past experiences in trying to give a dog a bath; but fortunately I keep my ideas to myself. Eventually the shaker desists, to my intense relief, and they appear to hold a consultation. I think over my chances of escape, realise that they do not appear to be good, and attempt to distract their attention by screaming.
This does not prove to be such a good idea, because the one who is holding me tightens his grip a good deal. I make such strangled protests as I am capable of, but as I half-expect, this does more harm than good. The four cluster around me and continue to hold their discussion, perhaps over what a strange colour my face is now turning. I am very nearly ready to give up, as is perhaps not too surprising; but as it happens my current ordeal is nearly over, because my next-door neighbour, with whom I have always been on fairly good terms, takes it into her head to investigate the sounds she has been hearing from my back yard for the last few minutes.
The first I know of her intentions is when she sticks her head up over the fence and says, “I thought I heard a.” I happen to be facing in the correct direction at the time, and so I am able to see that her face takes on a most unusual colour at this point, one that goes nicely with her blouse but does nothing for her blood pressure. She makes various other sounds, not all of them meaningful, and then her face disappears again.
This is disappointing, though not so surprising, but it at least draws the four creatures’ attention away, and the one who is holding me forgets himself so far as to loosen his grip. This action wins my wholehearted approval, and I celebrate his decision for some minutes by breathing.
The four now appear to come to a decision, prompted perhaps by the interruption. By an odd coincidence I also come to a decision, which is that I want to have nothing to do with their decision; but, disappointingly, I am not consulted in the matter. Instead I am picked up (by the throat) and am carried off with them. Unfortunately I am too busy over the next few minutes with the business of inhaling, or attempting to do same, to pay much attention to exactly where I am being carried. By the time I am set down again I no longer recognise my surroundings. All I wish, whatever the surroundings may be, is that they would go away. Or, even better, that they would kindly turn into a new greenhouse.
Their failure to do so does not surprise me. By now, nothing at all could surprise me. At least, that is what I am thinking, but today events seem to be taking great pleasure in proving me wrong about things, because I am surprised again almost immediately, this time when one of my captors, the one with all the warts, steps forward and says, with an air of great excitement, “All right, creature. Let’s get down and boogie.”
“I beg your pardon?” I say, as politely as possible.
The alien looks slightly disappointed, but it tries again bravely. “This is the BBC,” it adds. “Go ahead. Make my day.”
I am beginning to get the feeling that my captors are as nervous as I am, so I try to put them at their ease. “Normal transmissions will be resumed shortly,” I say, as they appear to expect something of this sort.
The alien looks as delighted as it is possible to look when one is severely hampered by a body that is not designed to look anything but ugly. “Hey man,” it exclaims. “You are under arrest. Up your nose with a rubber hose.”
There is such a thing as going too far. Slightly irritated, I say, “Excuse me. Can we dispense with the clichés and discuss why you have kidnapped me, not to mention your destruction of a greenhouse for which I have sentimental feelings?”
“I can’t get no satis—” the alien says blissfully, then stops suddenly and looks blank, which on its face is not a pretty sight. “Clichés?”
I clarify matters helpfully. “Certainly. ‘Up your nose with a rubber hose.’ ‘Make my day.’ Clichés.”
“Those aren’t common greetings on your world?”
“Those are common clichés on my world.”
This last remark sends the four into another huddle. They discuss something—presumably me—at length, in several different languages, some of which, I later learn, actually are spoken by the sorts of creatures they sound as if they are spoken by, a fact which presents some interesting mental images which I suppress hastily. Hysterical laughter at a time like this would be impolite, not to mention positively undiplomatic and possibly fatal.
At last the aliens turn back to me. “Very well,” the one who spoke before says. “What does constitute polite greetings on your world?”
I think this over quickly. A handshake is out of the question, with those hands, at least. Nor do a hug or a kiss appeal, though for different reasons. I say, a trifle diffidently, “The offering of refreshments.”
“Ah!” it says, doing the pleased look again. “Very well, what would you like? Tea? Coffee? A pederast, perhaps?”
I attempt to convince myself that this last is a simple grammatical error of the sort that could be made by anybody—that what it actually means to say is, for instance, head-rest. Unfortunately head-rests do not in general fall in the category of refreshments, and I decide—that is to say, hope—that the problem is simply that my host is a poor dumb alien and does not know what it is talking about.
“Coffee would be excellent, thank you,” I say, revealing none of my inner misgivings.
“We don’t have any coffee,” the alien says brightly.
“Tea, perhaps?” I am pretty sure that I know exactly what the alien is going to say next, but I make the attempt anyway. Sure enough, it says it.
“In that case, I will pass.”
“Very well,” it says with what I take to be a slightly disappointed expression. (I later learn exactly what does constitute a disappointed expression among its particular species, and I must say that I am not surprised.) “Milli-Admiral Sixth Kwuntanbleen, kindly torture—that is, interrogate—no, question the creature—no, actually I think torture is the right word after all. Milli-Admiral, proceed.”
Before I can even start to think about the possibility of considering the idea of threatening them with either karate (of which I know nothing) or screaming very loudly (of which I know considerably more, but which is unlikely to be of much use under the circumstances) if they so much as wave a cilium in my direction, the alien with more eyes than the average computer can count in a week does considerably more than wave a cilium in my direction. To be precise, he opens a pouch in his side, where I could have sworn there was nothing but eyes, draws out several sheaves of paper, and waves them at me threateningly.
I look them over carefully. They appear to be a set of photographs of a certain Miss Andrea, taken as she adopts a number of interesting poses while in an unclothed state.
I look up at Milli-Admiral Sixth Kwuntanbleen with a frown of the puzzled variety. “Are these supposed to be instruments of torture?”
It is now the Milli-Admiral’s turn to look crestfallen. “Aren’t they?”
“Well…not in the strictest sense of the word, no.”
“Then why do so many of your species cry out in agony whilst observing them?”
I think quickly, and decide that there is no way that he is going to believe the truth. Instead I give him an answer that I suspect that he will at least accept. “Those are not cries of pain. Those are cries of religious ecstasy.”
Kwuntanbleen blinks several hundred eyes in an unnerving way. “Ah. Your race is a very religious one, then?” (It is possible that my use of the word unnerving is redundant, but I am sure that you will get the idea.)
“Certainly,” I respond, wondering whether now would be such a bad time to break out into hysterical laughter.
“In that case—talk, alien, or we will withhold these images of your deity!”
“No…no!” I gasp in horror. You may well imagine at this point that I am overdoing it just a little. If you are in fact imagining this then I can tell you that you are perfectly correct. If on the other hand you are not imagining anything of the sort, then I have a very fine bridge in Brooklyn that I would like to sell you.
Still, I finally decide that they have had enough. Any more of this is not only going to get them mad sooner or later but is also going to send me mad from trying to keep the laughter in.
“Very well,” I say in well-simulated resignation. “Ask me what you will, I cannot stand this torture any longer.” You will notice that I am trying to let them down lightly. After all they are doing their best to do a good job of torturing me.
The four go into yet another huddle. At length Kwuntanbleen turns back towards me (not that he needs to, inasmuch as he can see me perfectly well from just about any angle you can imagine) and says, “Right. Alien—what is your name?”
I tell him.
He seems rather put out by this. “Oh. Er,” he says, then adds brilliantly, “Um.” I am beginning to get the impression that something may be rotten in the state of Denmark, or at least in the state of stark staring insanity, which is where I seem to be. I decide to help them out a little.
“Perhaps you were about to ask me about my business, or my scientific knowledge, or even what sort of military capabilities my race possesses?”
Kwuntanbleen looks shocked, an expression which I do not propose to describe. (Use your imagination.) “You’d tell us that?” he says with a gasp. (This is a sound that I do not propose to describe either, save to note that my mother-in-law would probably recognise it immediately.) (This is the reason that I do not propose to describe it.)
“Actually, no,” I answer truthfully.
The four go into yet another huddle. I hear them muttering something about immunity to torture, but by now I am feeling pretty sure of myself, and so I start to whistle quietly, just to hurry them along. It works, but not quite in the way I have been hoping, for the largest of them, a creature with an uncomfortably large set of teeth, turns around, grasps me firmly by the lips, and pulls me up close, giving my a unique opportunity to experience extraterrestrial halitosis at close range—an opportunity that I frankly would rather have avoided. I decide that my musical efforts are perhaps unappreciated, and stop with a degree of alacrity that is only partly aided by the fact that, once more, I cannot breathe.
“It was making sounds with its orificial appendages,” it rasps in a voice that reminds me uncomfortably of blackboards and fingernails.
“But it does that all the time when it talks, Rzndrix,” Kwuntanbleen points out. “The appendages writhe and sound comes out. Perhaps it cannot help it.”
“Or perhaps it is an attempt to disconcert us,” hisses Rzndrix in my ear. This is a most interesting sensation, and if you ever get the chance to try it, I recommend that you run for your life. “Creature!” it barks—
Look. The simple fact of the matter is that by now I have been in the presence of four aliens for several instructive minutes, and am starting to enjoy myself immensely now that I have begun to realise what is going on. I have also, however, had the somewhat dubious pleasure of experiencing the body language and odour of no less than four different alien species, at close range, over the same period of time, and can honestly state that this is an experience that I would have rather have avoided. Not to put too fine a point on it, it is an experience that I would willingly have sacrificed my firstborn to have avoided. My firstborn and six goats, in fact. (Actually this is only a figure of speech. As it happens, I have no firstborn, and my goats are none of your business.) There appear to be few, if any, alien mannerisms that can be conveniently ignored or avoided by the average well brought-up human. Nonetheless, and to prevent the size of this document approaching that of the Oxford English Dictionary, henceforth I propose to ignore most of them anyway, except perhaps for the most anthropologically—if you will pardon the word—interesting ones. And so—
“Creature!” he barks. The temptation to elaborate exactly what happens when a walking dental museum barks is strong, but the event, while distinctly nasty, is not really any more exotic than I have already experienced, far too many times; and so I am quite cold-bloodedly going to leave you wondering. “These appendages of yours. They are in fact surgically implanted sonic weapons, are they not?”
“Er—” I say truthfully, wondering exactly which appendages he is talking about. “Are you referring to my lips?”
“I don’t know,” he says suspiciously. “What are lips?” He has all those teeth but no lips. Mother Nature has a sense of humour after all.
I start to point to my lips, but before I can complete the gesture Rzndrix lunges at me, seizes them in a rubbery grip and screams, “Down, everyone! It’s going to open fire!”
Besides the temptation to describe at length the various, and often indescribable, mannerisms characteristic of these alien species, there is another problem in conducting a narrative such as this: namely, that of gender. Is Kwuntanbleen, for example, a he, a she, or an it? What about Rzndrix, or Twopfler, the one who grabbed me by the neck when we first met, and whose own orificial appendages, while not by any stretch of the imagination coming under the heading of lips, are nevertheless quite impressive, in a public-attraction sort of sense? Or Hgronnit, who wanted me to boogie? Or should I rather attempt to use pronouns denoting one of the other 3614 sexes that I have learned exist in various parts of the Galaxy? Actually I do not propose to try this at all, inasmuch as the pronouns concerned would require me to use at least the Cyrillic or Arabic alphabets in order to get words that look as strange as they sound. There appears to be no really satisfactory solution, and so I propose to continue as I have done previously: that is, simply using whichever gender seems most appropriate in a given situation. I have yet to discover exactly which pronoun is appropriate in any situation for a creature that is practically nothing but teeth; but after all nobody is perfect. Certainly not Rzndrix.
The four aliens hit the deck with a series of mind-pummelling sound effects, and lie there quaking for a few seconds. Finally Kwuntanbleen ventures to open a few dozen eyes and turn them in my direction. “Perhaps they aren’t loaded,” he says in a hopeful tone of voice.
I have been thinking things over rapidly during the short interval while they are waiting for me to disintegrate them all with my lips, and what I have been thinking is that I can probably get at least thirty or forty more good straight lines out of them yet before things settle down. But I decide to be merciful.
“Actually, they are not weapons at all,” I say.
Instantly Rzndrix is on his—well, feet—and trying to look threatening again. “So!” he bellows. “You have made a critical mistake in revealing your weakness to—”
“Tell me,” I interrupt politely, “This is all an accident, isn’t it?”
He stops dead, and I know I am right. “What?”
“Your taking me prisoner,” I elucidate, and he flinches visibly, with a loud clatter of teeth. “You broke my greenhouse completely by accident, and when I came out you felt you had to take me prisoner and act menacing to keep appearances up. Correct?”
“Maybe,” he says evasively.
“I expect you did not really want to land, actually,” I continue blithely. “In fact you probably only came to Earth by mistake, and you certainly do not know what to do with me now that you have me.”
“Could be,” he allow cautiously and in a rather hurt tone.
“And so you can drop me off back home now, can’t you?”
“Out of the question,” he opines.
“And then we can all forget the whole unpleasant—” I come to a sudden and completely unexpected halt. Something has gone wrong and I have a horrible feeling that I know what it is. “I beg your pardon?” I know what he is going to say next, and sure enough, he says it.
“Completely impossible,” he ventures. “This ship is now twenty-three light years from your planet, and we can hardly go back all that distance simply to drop off a passenger, can we?”
“Yes,” I say. “Definitely,” I urge. “Please,” I beg.
“Negative,” he gloats, and I have a sudden urge to see just how many of his teeth I can tear out of his head before he kills me. Fortunately before I can begin to indulge any of my xenocidal impulses—which are particularly vivid and nearly overpowering, let me tell you—Hgronnit waves a wart in my direction and says, “Make foreplay while the sun shines, alien. What would you prefer we do with you instead?”
I seriously consider banging my head against the nearest wall, or better still banging his head against the nearest wall, but think better of it. If touching a frog can give you warts, who know what touching Hgronnit might do?
Twopfler suddenly speaks up. It is the first time I have heard his voice as yet, and while it would not be entirely accurate to say that I run screaming and vomiting from the room, this would only be inaccurate insofar as I cannot see any exits from the room, and fortuitously manage to refrain from vomiting. Or screaming. To be blunt, his voice reminds me strongly of an event from my past—something involving a pumpkin, a pair of pliers, a homosexual budgerigar, a copy of the Book of Mormon, and a packet of toothpicks; but the exact details are not relevant.
What he says is, “Earthman. Would it be satisfactory if we were to drop you off at a convenient planet where you can book passage homewards?”
I control my lurching sensibilities and say “Hrggh” as they instantly get out of control once more.
He wrinkles what I assume to be a forehead and says, “Kwuntanbleen, is our translator functioning correctly? All I heard just now was a sort of moan.”
“How odd,” Kwuntanbleen muses. “That is all I heard, too. Perhaps—”
“Pardon me,” I announce, having absolutely, definitely, no doubt whatsoever, incontrovertibly regained control of my stomach. “You see, I was just—” I stop suddenly, realising that I have just been about to accurately describe my opinion of Twopfler’s voice, and briefly wonder if I really have just gone stark staring mad. “I was only experiencing an involuntary moment of cosmic angst,” I say with as much dignity as I can muster, which sadly is not as much as one might hope, “at the thought of travelling through the reaches of outer space.”
Hgronnit makes a curious sound (I think curious is the right word), and says, “How fascinating! Tell me, Earthman, is this angst of which you speak such a painful experience, then?”
I am tempted to manufacture further details, but for once I manage to refrain. “Indeed yes,” I tell him, before adding, somewhat unwisely, “The experience can even be fatal.” I am not entirely joking. I am coming to suspect that much more of my present circumstances is likely to result in enough angst to choke a hippopotamus.
“Really?” says Hgronnit eagerly. “When will this occur? May we watch? May we videotape the event?” He is clearly looking forward to a truly weird alien custom, and it is almost a pity to have to disappoint him.
“Sadly,” I tell him with a certain hauteur, “I seem to have gotten over it.”
“What!” exclaims Rzndrix. “Do you mean that after all that, you’re just going to let us down?”
“I am afraid so,” I say, rather lamely.
He snorts alarmingly. (He does just about everything alarmingly.) “Well, I don’t know,” he mutters. “You aliens are pretty damned inconsiderate, that’s all.”
“But surely you would not want me to die?” I demand. This is not sarcasm. I really want to know.
“Well…” He pauses, clearly thinking about it carefully. “Not as such, but…”
“Thank you,” I say warmly. “It is good to know that I have such a good friend so far from my world.” This is very definitely sarcasm, but I am finding it quite irresistible. Rzndrix performs a facial contortion which I later learn denotes extreme embarrassment among his species, and I restrain a shudder. Barely.
“Now, alien,” insists Twopfler. “Do you wish to be set down on a convenient world? Or do you wish to continue with us?” I shudder very definitely this time, but by a superhuman effort manage to do no more than that.
“I do not know,” I answer truthfully. “What sort of planet would you set me down on? Or, if I stay with you, where are you going and why?”
“We are heading out into the wild blue yonder,” Hgronnit interjects eagerly.
“I thought we had finished with the clichés,” I say suspiciously.
“Is that a cliché too? We saw in your audio-visual broadcasts that all cool dudes like to head off into the wild blue yonder.”
“Yes, but they do not do it literally.”
“Only because they do not have spaceships,” Kwuntanbleen points out logically. “Surely they would do so if they could?”
This is a bit of a poser, and I realise with a sinking feeling that I have no idea of the answer. I ask another question instead. “But why? And what makes you think you are—are ‘cool dudes’ anyway?”
“Is it not self evident?” Kwuntanbleen asks, making a peculiar gesture.
“Have you no eyes, alien?” I start to say that compared to him, I haven’t, but then I think better of it. He makes the peculiar gesture again and I hide a smile. All right then, a smirk. “‘Be bop a lula, she’s my baby…’” he intones gravely.
“Ah,” I say, for want of anything better to say. I decide I had better capitulate before he feels driven to any more overt proof of his dude-hood. “I surrender,” I announce. “You are indeed a cool dude.”
Quite suddenly I am seized by a lunatic impulse. Before I can stop myself, I turn to Kwuntanbleen, Twopfler and Rzndrix, and say, “Are you three also cool dudes?”
Rather as I am expecting, they are obliged to present their own demonstrations of cooldom. I file the sight away for later review and hysteria, and content myself with a few well-chosen twitches at the most overpowering moments.
“So,” I say when they have finished and I am once more in control of myself. “To recapitulate: you have all realised for no readily apparent reason that you are cool dudes and you are therefore heading off into the wild blue yonder. Correct?” For some reason I keep expecting to hear the theme tune to Happy Days come wafting through the room.
“Correct,” Kwuntanbleen says with a pleased expression. (I am approximately 94.7% sure that this is what the expression is.)
“And during your, er, yondering, you landed on a small, unsuspecting planet because it was the one you have been listening to all sorts of entertaining radio signals from for years. Then I butted in and you picked me up to keep up appearances.”
“Right on,” Hgronnit says annoyingly.
“And Kwuntanbleen isn’t really an Admiral?”
“Milli-Admiral,” he corrects me pedantically.
“Milli-Admiral,” I capitulate.
“Well, no. Not even a Centi-Admiral, really.”
“Perhaps a Red Admiral? No, please forget I said that.”
“Said what?” he asks cunningly.
“Alien, you have not yet told us your preference,” interrupts Twopfler with a series of noises reminiscent of baboons mating. I think about this, wondering what preference he is talking about. Then, annoyingly, I find myself thinking about baboons. I turn my thought back to the question hastily and finally remember what preference he is talking about. Would I prefer to be dropped off on a convenient planet to make my own way home?
“On due consideration I believe I would prefer to stay with you,” I announce. The alternative is superficially attractive but I have a strong feeling that I would need money in order to book a trip home, and, given what I have already seen of the universe, I do not think I am ready to learn what other planets use for money.
At least with these four, I can be reasonably confident that their intentions are not bad. Possibly insane, but not bad.
Hgronnit makes a pleased noise. “Awesome!” he burbles. “So now we are five. Five brave souls, venturing forth into the pitiless wilderness—”
“May the Force be with us,” I mutter.
It seems appropriate.
© 2009 by Angus MacSpon • Contact • Writing page