Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Joy Ride
by Jude-Marie Green

Barnegat Inn
by Brian Biswas

Captain Quasar and the Kolarii Kidnappers
by Milo James Fowler

by Michael Hodges

Discord in Paradise
by Leslie Lupien

(225-50) Agnes
by Mark Ayling

It’s a Long Road to the Sky Train
by Michael Andre-Driussi

Not Her Kind
by Peter Wood

Down Courthouse Wash
by Steven L. Peck

Blink Twice
by Rebecca Birch

by Sean Monaghan


Mad Max, R2-D2 Return
by Adam Paul

Sixteen Shades of Ice
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Down Courthouse Wash

By Steven L. Peck

I FOUND THEM UP THE DRY wash. I thought they were potatoes.

I’d better back up and give you some context. I am working at Arches National Park in southeastern Utah, doing some temp job building fences—that’s what my biology degree got me, a gig at manual labor. The sad thing is everybody working up here with me has some kind of degree—two bachelors, three masters, and a cute ABD (all but dissertation) Ph.D. student—and everyone is trying to break into the Park Service. The thinking goes, if you do anything with the National Park Service up to and including building fences, you’ll make some connections and meet that mythical administrator who will make all your dreams come true by starting you on that tortuous path to becoming a Park Ranger, the first step being hired full time. It never happened much, but you’ve got to have dreams. Right?

It is bone-breaking work; hauling large aspen logs off the trucks, then weaving them into fences that if you lined up end to end would stretch for miles. Each individual fence isn’t that long. They form a barrier ringing campgrounds and are designed to keep people from tramping around in the delicate cryptogrammic crusts topping the desert soil. These fragile mixed bacterial-fungal-algal mats are the heart blood of the high desert ecosystems in the Canyonlands area of southeastern Utah.

So it’s a cloudy day, not too hot, early April, and we were all worn out and tired of being there. We had to act like cheerful worker bees, however, because there was a permanent job opening in July, and likely our foreman, Hank Miner, would have a say in who got hired. The job was on the trail maintenance crew, which is not much better than this, but it would throw you into the system and make you a GS7 U.S. Government employee with full benefits including retirement and dental. So we were smiling, joking, and throwing logs over our shoulders and hoisting them around like they were made of balsa wood, and all in all being the jolliest bunch of guys and girls you’d ever seen. But inside we were sweating, dirty, seething masses of worn-out resentment. Never judge a book by its cover and all that.

Later in the afternoon, one of the rangers pulled up and yelled out to the crew chief, “Hey, Hank, can you spare a body? I need someone to walk Courthouse?” My hand went up waving like the schoolboy who knows the answer to the question. I just happened to be closest to Hank at that moment so he motioned me over to the ranger with a nod of his head, even though by that time everybody was trying to volunteer.

The ranger said, “You got a car up here someone can drive down to the highway so you can get home?” I knew Shell and Kelly had driven up together and I had a little crush on Shell (she was the Ph.D. student) so I asked her if she wouldn’t mind doing it for me. I had a vague hope she would be so impressed with the music on my iPod as she drove it back down toward Moab I’d stand a better chance with her. She said, “Sure, I’ll put the keys on top of the rear wheel.” Whoohoo, I got out of hauling logs and got a chance to get to know Shell better.

From the place the wash crosses the main road in the middle of Arches, to where it slides under highway 191 just before it empties into the Colorado River, it is about an eight-mile hike. The wash runs through some of the most gorgeous redrock country imaginable. It is an isolated stretch of canyon and graced all the way down by mothering canyon walls that channel a pleasant breeze that whispers through the cottonwoods and willows that guard the (usually) dry stream.

I couldn’t believe my luck. Not many people know this lovely place exists, and likely I would hike the whole thing without meeting a soul. The wash did not have a formal trail marked on the visitor maps and the park discouraged people walking down it because it could be dangerous in a flash flood, which could appear out of nowhere. It could be all blue skies in Arches, but a thunderstorm up north, near the Bookcliffs north of I-70, could send down a fearsome glut of dangerous water. You’d never know what hit you when the fast moving torrent of mud and debris rounded you in a narrow bit of canyon and dragged you away forever. It happened often enough, and not uncommonly the unfortunate soul’s body was never found.

The ranger drove me to the wash and told me that a Japanese tourist had come into the visitor center really upset. He didn’t speak much English but seemed to indicate that something had chased him in the wash. They had him draw a picture and it just looked like dumplings with toothpicks in them.

“What do you think it was?” I asked. And he said, he guessed it might have been bats or tumbleweeds or something. He wanted me to check it out. Walk down and see what I saw. I told him I was glad to do it. That was an understatement.

The hike was a pleasant downhill stroll. It had been a dry year so the wash was empty for the most part. Only a few oxbow bends in the curves beside the canyon walls had any standing water. As expected, I had the place to myself. I didn’t want to come out until the workday was over, so I was ambling at my own pace. Occasionally, I looked around to see if I could find something that would chase a tourist, but mostly I just enjoyed myself. I saw turkey (leftover from the Anasazi Indians who kept them as pets), a couple of deer, lots of crows, but that was about it. I was nearing the highway and could even hear the occasional semi hitting its engine breaks, when in a little rocky hollow cut into the south wall across the dry wash I saw a large pile of potatoes. It seemed strange, so I popped over to get a better look.

It took me a good while to get my head around what I was seeing. Like the coastal Native Americans who could not make any experiential sense of the tall ships approaching from Europe, my mind could just not grasp these odd things. They were living creatures. That was absolutely clear. But of what kind? I’d been a nature documentary buff since I was a kid. I think that’s why I majored in biology, but these were outside anything I’d ever seen, even among the strange invertebrates of the deep ocean vents. Holy shit what was I looking at?

Their bodies were very potato-like, in shape and as asymmetrical, color, and bulk—a good-sized baking Idaho spud, not the little red ones. Small foramen covered their skin, out of which flickered pale wormy projections just visible under numerous stomata opening and closing rhythmically over the holes. They sat on three strange lower appendages; ivory colored and textured, but with seven joints that collapsed the legs like one of those wooden yardsticks that fold up on themselves for storage. The creatures had three arms, again bone-like and hard, two of which ended in small tentacles like an octopus. These came out of the hollow end of the appendage, like a hand from an oversized coat sleeve. The third arm was like the lower appendages in color and texture, but ended in a sharp thin point something like a spear. In the center of their potato body was a bright, almost Day-Glo, red hexagonal compound eye composed of hundreds of individual ommatidia, like an Earthly insect only much bigger. I was completely freaked out and only curiosity kept me moving toward them. However, despite my raw courage, I did not want to get too close.

As I approached, they unfolded their six-jointed tripod legs, clicking as they did so, and stood up to about waist high on me. They waved their upper appendages wildly, not exactly threateningly, although I suppose it could have been. I don’t know why I didn’t run. Every instinct told me to get the hell out of there. But I couldn’t. I was transfixed. Not like they did something to hypnotize me; I don’t mean it like that. No, I was just overwhelmed with a sense of wonder and fear. There was no doubt in my mind that these things were not from Earth. After Ipotato alien stood there awhile, they lowered themselves, again by folding up their lower appendages, and huddled together. There were sixty-seven of them, as I counted later, but if you had asked me to guess right then, I would have said there were three or four hundred, they seemed so numerous. I suspected they were also scared. I don’t know why I thought so, something about the way they retreated and huddled made them seem vulnerable and frightened.

“There, there, little potatoes. It’s all right. Welcome to Earth. It’s going to be all right.” I cooed to them. They just gathered closer together.

The wash had been completely dry for the last two miles. Like all life here, I supposed they needed water. I pulled off my camelback and moved slowly toward them, letting it drip to show them what it held and what I was offering. I hoped to coax one of them to come over and sample it, but they all clumped together quivering. I did not want to get too close, so I took out a re-closable bag of apricots I had in my pack, emptied it of its dried fruits, and fashioned it into a small low-sided bowl. This I filled with water and propped it on a flat rock near the huddled creatures. I then backed away. The lot of them moved together as a group toward the bowl, and the first few took a turn sitting in the container. After about three such visits to my makeshift water bowl, it was empty. They seemed to understand and backed away en masse as I refilled it twice more before I ran out of water. Only about ten of them got a drink. I noticed the ones who got watered seemed to darken in color, and the stomata opened and closed a little more vigorously.

I had to get the rest some water. They did not look amenable to being herded, and when I moved toward them they did not back up, but rather clustered closer together and quivered more. It was getting dark, so I thought I’d go home and get a five-gallon jug of H2O and come back and water them, but as I moved away, I noticed they were following. I knew now why the Japanese tourist had been so terrified. Some potatoes with sticks for appendages were now chasing me. They moved fairly rapidly on their extended legs. They stayed in their huddle, and were able to follow even when I started to jog. I was determined to beat the dying light back to my pickup truck so I hurried along.

I found the keys where Shell said she would leave them and I opened the little camper covering my pickup bed and lowered the tailgate. I needed to get them in the back. I pulled out the plywood that functioned as the bed-liner for my truck and positioned it to form a ramp. I motioned for them to climb inside, but they seemed unable to interpret my intent. I moved to pick one up, thinking that if I set one in the back of the pickup, maybe the others would follow. As I did, however, it leaped up to its full height and let out a horrific whistle, the others followed its example immediately, and soon I was standing before a herd of stilted potatoes letting off a shrill scream. I backed away pretty quick. Almost as quickly as I moved away they all went silent and lowered themselves. Ok. Don’t touch. Got it.

I had half an energy drink sitting in a cup holder, so I poured that into my apricot bag-bowl and placed it deep into the camper shell and stepped back. Tentatively, yet as a group, they made their way up the plank. When they were all aboard, I quickly closed the tailgate and camper shell. I expected some sort of panicked response. A loud banging around perhaps as the beasts tried to free themselves, but there was nothing.

I got into the cab and hurried to my home in Moab about four miles away. All the way I could hear them sliding back and forth whenever I made a turn. I tried to slow down and go easy, driving like a grandpa, but they all seemed pretty loose back there and continued to slide around no matter how careful I was. A yellow Mustang got frustrated at my lack of speed and roared past me, flipping me off. Normally, that would have made me livid, but, hey, I had a truckload of aliens and that’s enough to make everything else fade into the background. The more we travelled the more commotion I could hear back there. By the time I reached Moab city limits, they were making quite a ruckus so finally I just sped up and tried to make good time.

I live off of 4th East in an old pioneer home, with a knee-high picket fence. I’ve made a half-assed attempt to garden and a few flowers lined the barrier. I hoped my interplanetary visitors did not have high expectations of accommodations and judged all of Earth based on my house and yard skills. I was so hyped up, and my front picket gate so narrow, I just backed over my fence and cozied my truck up to the few stairs and cement slab that served as the front porch to my abode. I was blistering with emotions. I was worried my little friends were dying of thirst, freaked out that I had just had answered the question of whether we were alone in the universe, and feeling, all-in-all, about as cracked as I’d ever felt. I mean, shit! I had a truckload of goddamned phone-home ETs!

Before letting them out, I ran into the house and filled my tub with water. I tried to get it to about room temperature. I also rigged little steps made of books (of which I had no lack and at the moment did not seem crucial to preserve), leading up and down into the tub. Then I took a glass full of water and poured it on the floor all the way back to the truck, trying to make a wet trail to let them know where to go for a drink. I opened the shell. They were huddled together, so I backed away. They did not take long to start clicking their limbs and shouldering their way into my house. They made a beeline to the bathroom and to the tub. I followed and watched as they climbed in one at a time. One at a time, even though a bunch would have fit. Pretty soon they had all come and sat in the water. After all sixty-something had gotten a drink, they just sat in the bathroom. Sort of clicking. Not like they were talking, but like they were just exercising their limbs up and down. Flexing their bony tripod legs, their arms, and fleshy tentacled fingers. I did not see a way for them to talk or communicate. They eventually spilled into my hallway and began to tentatively make their way toward the main living spaces.

After a while, they started moving around my house. They moved from room to room always en masse—staying huddled, standing up on their tripods. They seemed to mostly be looking around. Getting the lay of the land as it were. I wondered what they ate. As a biologist, I knew there were two things life had to do. Eat and mate. The rest of existence was just a variation on that theme.

So now I’m sitting on my couch. The aliens are in here with me. We are all watching TV. Or I think they are. They are facing that way, anyway. The TV is showing reruns of “Battlestar Galactica.” They’ve set up a low hum among themselves, swaying contentedly. Or that’s how I interpret it anyway. Maybe they are boiling over in rage for all I know about alien physiology and behavior, but it doesn’t seem like that. Maybe tomorrow I’ll call NASA. Or the Smithsonian. Or somebody. There is a striking lack of information on the web about what to do in case of an alien invasion. At least they are not Cylons.


I didn’t call anyone.

I figured out what they like to eat. I did some experiments. I put out big pots of chicken soup, vegetable soup, bread, meat, and various cheeses. And after some selection experiments and some trial and error with various things, it looks like cabbage soup with a little Miracle-Gro added in for good measure is their meal of choice. They don’t eat the cabbage; they just soak in the broth until the liquid is mostly gone. It takes me nearly all day to feed the lot. I’ve started making dinner in a fifty-five gallon oil drum that I was using to burn garbage. Here is the recipe: 27 heads of cabbage, 10 lbs of onions, 1 lb of Miracle-Gro Plant Food, water to a quarter of the way from the top. No salt. They really don’t like salt FYI. In one of the food trials I added a little salt and it set one of my new friends to screaming. Not a pleasant sound.

I put a flame under the soup du jour until it boils (about three hours). Cook for one hour, then let it cool for about three more hours, or until it’s lukewarm. I put the soup in ten large buckets and refill them until all the wee ones are fed. Each eats about a third of a bucket load, every three days. After they eat, they stand up tall and march in place on their spindly legs and flap their arms for nearly and hour. I’ve joined them a time or two, but my attempts to mimic them do not seem to impress or even attract their attention. They don’t try to mimic my actions, like I do theirs. They poop little pellets and pee an orange Kool-Aid that I mop up daily.

* * *

They really like TV. When it is on they are all facing the same way (unlike when they mill about waiting to be fed), their big compound eyes staring fixedly at the screen.


So last night it was late and we were watching “Nightmare Theater.” It was dark except for the glow of the black-and-white film about vampires (I’ve not noticed that they do anything that looks like sleep, although when not eating they tend not to move around a lot, so who knows). Suddenly their foramen began to open and close in strange patterns, configurations that flowed over the group in pulsating waves like that of the cellular automata game of life—creating a pattern constructed by the way the holes opened and closed. The patterns moved and flowed across their bodies like schools of reef fish moving and turning in unison. Then I saw it! The patterns were mimicking and reproducing the vampire show we were watching! As soon as I noticed it, I could not help but see it. I could actually watch a grainy version of the show in simulation as it danced across their bodies. I cheered. I started to cry. Then I cheered again. I wanted to hug them, but I was afraid it would freak them out. Whether it was intentional or not, they had just communicated something to me. I’d wondered if they were intelligent, or just a group of livestock that some alien race left behind. No, they seemed to have a significant grain of intelligence. I think.

* * *

About a week ago I brought Shell to the house saying I had something to show her. I had to tell someone. As we entered, I thought she would be the only surprised one. But I fear my shock was nearly as great as hers. She, for obvious reasons. Me, because when we got to my place there were only about twenty potato aliens in the room, and my HDTV was completely disassembled with its pieces neatly arranged in a matrix that looked like an engineering diagram with long rows and columns of parts clumped by assemblage components.

And, well, I should have prepared her better. When we walked into the room the creatures, frightened I suppose because I brought in another person, stood up to their full extended tripod height and let out their shrill whistle. She in turn screamed. Which caused the creatures to run into the bathroom. It was pandemonium.

It took a while to get everyone calmed down. It turned out Shell thought I was bringing her to my home for a surprise birthday party. It was her birthday (I didn’t have a clue) and she thought the whole gang would be there to leap out in celebratory glee. Then she would open her presents, and then we would sit around drinking and listening to music. Potato aliens from another part of the universe were not what she was quite ready for. I explained the whole thing and what I had discovered about them.

“You’ve got to tell someone.”

“Who?” If anyone would know, it would be Shell. She was working on a Ph.D. at UC Davis about the effects of climate change on aspen populations, but her advisor’s lab had lost her NSF funding due to congressional cutbacks to the science agency (hence her spending the summer working for the Park Service mending fences), but she was well connected and was more likely to know someone who could help figure out where to go with my aliens than anyone I knew.

She answered, “I don’t know, but you can’t keep them living in your one bedroom house locked away in Moab, Utah. The world needs to know shit like this. You know ... Take me to your leader and all that.”

“I’ve made a connection. They seem easily upset. They are not ready yet. They like it here. Spend some time with them. I’m making progress. They’ve been showing me things.”

“Like what?”

“Well, I’m not sure, but they put on the most amazing pattern displays. I’ll get them to show you, if we can find where the rest went. Will you help me look for them?”

We searched the house, then the neighborhood. We asked around if anyone had seen anything unusual and we watched their reaction to see if they revealed some hint that something had unsettled their day. But nothing seemed amiss among my neighbors. The guy who shared my backyard fence had a big Pit Bull he kept chained up in the back. It was as friendly as a Labrador, but I wasn’t sure intergalactic travelers were on its friends list, and I was afraid I’d see the telltale sign of shredded aliens, things like pieces of their arms and legs scattered about. But there was nothing.

We went back and spent the rest of the evening coaxing the rest out of the bathroom. Finally, we got them back to the front room and sat around watching each other. Shell spent the night. Academic girls find guys with aliens irresistible apparently, plus she said it was her best birthday ever.

* * *

Shell moved in and we both quit our jobs at Arches. She started a full-blown study of the aliens. She drove to Davis and borrowed a bunch of cool equipment from her advisor’s now defunct lab. She set up monitoring cameras, digitizing the footage, taking measurements of both their morphology and how they interacted, measuring their nutrient intake by weighing the buckets before and after feeding, collecting the pellets, putting down plastic and collecting the pee, and sending it off for spectral analysis, digitally recording the sounds they made and playing it back and gauging their reaction, setting up weighing scales and then coaxing them on them each day to note changes in mass, and several other things that kept us hopping all day. My watching TV with them seemed a little embarrassing after seeing her get all scientific. I guess my undergraduate degree in biology had not really got me thinking about the real questions. My honors advisor had just told me to collect moths for her, which I stuck in a blender, then extracted the DNA, then ran it through the PAUP computer program, which spat out phylogenetic trees showing how the moth species were related to each other, which we then published. Yea! A big deal for an undergraduate thesis. Watching Shell work got me excited about science again.

* * *

Shit, the others are back! I don’t know where they went for the last two months, but they are as radioactive as hell. We wouldn’t have known, but Shell had radiolabeled some of their soup to look at how long food was taking to transit their system from ingestion to expulsion. And the ones that finally came back made the Geiger counter go nuts. Shell said she was glad they would not let us touch them, because likely we would have gotten radiation burns. They are that radioactively hot.


We’ve been watching for forty-eight hours and who knows what they are doing? Shell is filming like crazy, trying to capture them from every angle she can. They are rebuilding my flat screen. Sort of. They are exuding wires from their bodies. They’ve constructed lasers (I think). They are welding, and there are noises coming out of my house that I’m sure have never been heard on Earth before. They don’t pause until I lay out dinner, and after they eat they are back at it. Whatever they are doing, they are also pulling the radioactivity out of their bodies, because about half of them no longer trigger the response from the Geiger counter that they once did.

So we could tell them apart, Shell actually marked each one with a pattern of blue, yellow, and red dots that she placed on top of their heads with food coloring while they were eating, the only time we can get close enough to do something like that. We can actually follow each of them as individuals. So we know that some of the ones that were once radioactive no longer are.


Shell got a letter from a colleague back at Davis. She’d sent them some alien shit and asked for a DNA analysis (without disclosing its source of course). They said, “Sorry, but there is nothing recognizable in the sample. It looks rich in nucleic acids, but none of the sequences line up with anything in our database.” Ok, they are not from here, but to be honest I knew that already.


They’ve got “The Alien Channel” running! They set the HDTV back up on the wall. It’s wired to the house directly and looks like it’s drawing as much power as my clothes dryer and the refrigerator put together. But what they watch is, well, to put it mildly, wondrous and strange. It is a video of a matrix of the aliens arranged like pixels on a screen, flashing patterns like the little group here in my living room. The creatures are sitting there transfixed with rapt attention at their fellow species flashing across the light-years on my Moab TV (I suppose it’s coming from far away—maybe it’s coming from a ship parked behind the dump for all I know). I helped Shell set up multiple cameras, one on the screen and another one time-synced with the TV on the aliens. She is uploading all this to a private YouTube channel because she is scared to death the aliens are going to wake up to what she is doing and try to destroy the data. We are now taking shifts sleeping, so one of us is watching at all times. Our love life is in shambles. Our discussions are starting to take on a somewhat paranoid cast. We are beginning to wonder if this is bigger than we realized. They are clearly picking up signals that humans can’t. Something like this, if it were detectable by human equipment, would have been noticed long ago. Shell thinks it might be a sort of quantum-based transmission because obviously they needed some serious radioactive material to pull it off. We’ve decided to call her advisor to get her advice. We are starting to feel like this is out our league.


Shell’s advisor, Dr. Kris Cutter, has joined us. She’s brought in Dr. Mike Prim, an expert on cellular automata to analyze the patterns coming in on their TV’s display of alien bodies, a Berkley physicist, Rabindra Krishnamurthy, who is trying to determine where the signal is coming from, and a xenobiologist, Yanni Strang.

When Kris saw the video, she thought it was an elaborate joke. Once she realized her grad student was not kidding, things took a very serious turn. NASA’s been contacted, and they have several people flying in tomorrow.

When Kris came in the house, the aliens freaked out and not in any way we’ve seen. They jumped up on their legs and started screaming like they’ve done before, but this time actually attacked her—or at least ran at her. She fled. We’ve not repeated the experiment, and now all the others are watching from our bedroom on live video feeds. We’ve set up thirty-six cameras trained on the group, on some individual aliens, the TV, and in general trying to catch as much detail as we can. Basically, I’ve become a full time cook for a growing army of researchers and extraterrestrial visitors. Hell, I’ve only got a B.S. degree so what else am I good for?


Shit. The CIA, NSA, and the military have arrived. Three days after NASA showed up, the suits with earpieces came lurking in, then the dudes and dudettes in uniform appeared. They are demanding all the data and plan to move the aliens to a more “secure” location. The scientists are fighting them and a group of lawyers have joined the fray. However, Shell, not one to be intimated, made the private YouTube channel public, and has put all the data on her website begging people to copy it and distribute it far and wide. The suits still don’t know that the data is loose and took our computers thinking it would now be locked down. The Alien Channel has gotten over a million hits in the two days it’s been open. We just got a lecture from some general about the importance of secrecy. We all smiled.

They tried to jam the signal. Not to stop it, but as they explained, if after jamming on all frequencies humanly possible, the signal still got through their military grade jamming equipment, the signal was obviously very different from the electromagnetic radiation we used in our signals. The jamming attempt failed. They are using technology we don’t have, and that we don’t understand.


There are twenty people huddled in the video room watching. Yesterday, our aliens initiated patterns with their small potato-eye spiracles flashing in and out, creating patterns like the ones displaying on my TV. The NSA people are the only government people left. The military trying to “Area 51” the aliens invoked such a public outcry that the President herself pulled them out. Every TV on the planet is now pretty much tuned to the video feed of the aliens making patterns on the screen.

The patterns seem almost wild and frantic. I am holding Shell’s hand and she is squeezing mine back so hard I’m afraid it might be doing permanent damage (not really, but she is squeezing hard). This started about twenty minutes ago and it’s the first reaction we’ve seen from the creatures. It’s rather exciting. I’m scared shitless, actually.


They say there were over three hundred people watching on the Internet when the black vortex opened and the aliens all marched into it en masse. It opened in the hallway that leads to my bathroom. They unhooked my TV, and seventeen of them carried it into what looked like a flat black disk—almost a six-foot hole in the universe really. They all marched into it. Then they were gone. The big aperture simply blinked out of existence. Shell’s videos of the aliens have, of course, gone viral. She’s going to be rich enough to put a castle next to J.K. Rowling’s.

Princeton, Cornell, UNC, Stanford, and about fifteen other universities are fighting for her to come finish her dissertation at their institution, using the data she took of the creatures, of course (with hints from two of them that a tenure-track position will magically open when she’s completed her work). NSF has offered her five million in funding to thoroughly explore the data and analyze the hours of recordings. I’m not faring badly either. A writer for the “Atlantic Monthly” is flying in tomorrow to interview me about my first few weeks with the potato aliens. She is just the first. It’s a media feeding frenzy. I wish I would have taken more pictures.


It’s been quite a year. Shell and I are standing in the late autumn shadow of the canyon through which Courthouse Wash runs. We are scouring the area for the umpteenth time for some hint of how or why the aliens arrived in this spot. I’m now working on a Ph.D. at Stanford. In the end, Shell decided to finish up at Davis. When she completes her work, she’ll be able to go anywhere she wants; so, since she’s completed all the coursework, it makes sense just to get it out of the way. We are still together despite the topsy-turvy whirlwind of becoming worldwide celebrities. That must mean we really do like each other.

This place at the bottom of the wash is a mess. It’s turned into a pilgrimage site for tourists. New Age folk have declared the site an Earth Chakra and the place attracts many others trying to connect with the aliens. There are prayer wheels, ribbons, flags, beer and soda cans, fliers and pamphlets, stuffed alien teddy bears, and plastic alien action figures lined up on about every flat surface in the vicinity, messages and prayers stuck in every crack of the rocks or tied to the branches of the cottonwood tree that fronts the little alcove where I found them. In short, the place looks like a dump. Because it’s technically outside the boundaries of Arches National Park, there is not much that can be done about it.

Someone has painted on the red rock wall above the little grotto where I found them, “ITS A HOAX PEOPLE! WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFEE” (sic). There are several websites devoted to showing how we messed up in the special effects we used when we digitally faked this story, or so they believe. There are sites devoted to interpreting the patterns we watched on their TV with medieval-level numerology showing how the end-time events are going to unfold. It’s a phenomenon now.

There are two main academic threads trying to explain the aliens that have some traction in scientific circles: (1) the aliens were explorers abandoned on an away mission; or (2) it was a fact-gathering mission, possibly assessing the planet as a supplier of resources. The second is becoming more popular; as it turns out, the aliens apparently stole weapons-grade plutonium from the U.S. Navy. No one knows how they got in, or got out, but they did. It has worried the military types to no end. A think tank has been established in Norfolk Virginia to review the measures that failed during the time the aliens must have breached security. So far, surveillance tapes show absolutely nothing. A subgroup of proponents who believe the creatures were “assessing resources” think it was preparatory to an invasion.

Shell and I spent more time with them than anyone, and we often get asked our theory about why they were here. We offer speculation just like every blogger on the planet. But the truth is we have no idea. When we are alone, we joke that from everything we saw them do, they were pretty much here to watch some TV and enjoy a good meal.

If they are invaders, I hope they remember one thing. That I fed them every day they were here with some great soup, home-brewed in a fifty-five gallon drum, and seasoned the way they liked it. That ought to have bought a little gratitude and good will. I hope so anyway. END

Steven L. Peck has published over fifty science articles in magazines including “Newsweek” and “American Naturalist.” His short stories have appeared in “Analog,” “Daily Science Fiction,” “Abyss & Apex,” and many other publications.




peter saga


robin dunn