Last Best Hope
The end was coming to the Earth. That was abundantly
clear to everyone, except the humans of course. Great tidal waves would crash unto coastal cities, drowning thousands. But
by this point only the unimportant poor and vulnerable lived on the coast. That was okay. No one cared about them.
The waves dragged the dead bodies, decayed buildings,
and destroyed dreams, depositing them on the miles and miles of plastic-covered dead zones.
There were Coke and Pepsi bottles as far as the
eye could see. The terrorists were crazy. They thought they could destroy America. Well, over a hundred million tons of garbage
proved them wrong! God bless America! Mixed in amongst the floating red, white, and blue glories of Anglo-American capitalism
were bloating corpses. They'd finished off such oxygenic oceanic phytoplankton as had managed to survive the dead zone while
at the same time feeding methane and other noxious gases to the dreaded red, green, and vilely hot-pink bubblegum tides.
As the multicolored tides floated away from the
safety of American shores they brought forth new nations of more oceanic dead zones which built up, curled up, and got bottled
up by the currents into gigantic tidal waves that crashed upon other shores, drowning more of the poor, fulfilling Ebenezer
Scrooge’s dream of reducing surplus populations.
Before the population reached zero somebody had
to save the Earth. A nice, recent college graduate, a gray named XXX Plargmcobberlacort 6—"X" for short—was just
the one to do it!
X had fled home because he would not, could
not, follow in the family harem administration business for Mangor the Monstrous.
“What’s wrong with your father’s
job?” X’s mother would often ask. “He makes a nice living.”
A nice living as a glorified pimp. Unfortunately
for X, X didn’t make a living at all. He had had the misfortune to graduate when the subspace prime asteroid futures
market had crashed, causing the economy to go down the zero-grav toilet. This was no time to get a galaxy-saving job. In fact,
X couldn’t get a job at all. He was working for an NGO as an unpaid intern.
“An intern? You work as an intern?”
“But Mom, I have a chance to save worlds.”
“Yeah, well, I have the chance to act like
a flightless nugget bird with its head cut off, but I won’t take it.”
“Look, Mom, you don’t have to pay for
it. I have some money saved. (X was his school’s distributor of antenna-cleaning Asteroidway products.)
“Good. Your father and I won’t. But
what happens when your internship becomes permanent?”
“It won’t. The economy will pick up.”
But it hadn’t and it didn’t look like
it was going to any time soon. Infinite space can have infinite financial problems. X might be able to hold out for several
months if, for every meal, he ate emergency marooned-astronaut powder (just add recycled urine and voila). Blah! Several months
of culinary delight--then what? There were no jobs out there, not unless you know someone, like, oh … a harem administrator.
If he didn’t get a job in several months he'd
have to study up on which slink worms excrete which aphrodisiacs which taste like which berry and paralyzes which species’
breasts (but the breasts are there for Mangor’s enjoyment, not that of the harem inmates--oops! I mean "willing partners," so that’s okay). This was something X, really, really, did not want to
do. In fact, he'd rather cut his own shnorg off.
X had one way of avoiding employment hell.
His internship had gone on so long that he'd been given more and more responsibility:
from logging mail, to answering subspace squawkers, to working on lost causes. The lost causes were doomed planets.
They had nothing to sell grant providers. They had no useful minerals, no rare or exotic fruits useful in diet pills, no aphrodisiac-spewing
slink worms. They didn’t have cute sentients that Solidified Slithers, the actress, could make you feel guilty about
through annoying infomercials during planetary sleep periods:
“This is Vangor. She's starving because interstellar
hose-beasts are eating her planet dry. But for just credits a day you can make sure she and her planet get food, clean water
and sociopathic mercenaries to turn the hose-beasts into cheap rugs for tourists. Look at that face. How can you tell those
eyestalks you don’t care? You can’t, so call now.”
X handled loser planets because the NGO’s
charter stated they saved doomed planets. The NGO must therefore be seen to work on them. What are they not paying taxes for?
You don’t want Mangor’s auditors to question your nonprofit status: “If
only you knew the power of the Fiduciary Side! Oh wait. You will. Screaming will get you nowhere, but it will make a good
present for my kids, so scream away. Let the audit begin!”
Because these planets were galactic losers no one
expected anything to come from them. They were just a way for the NGO to save its collective epidermis from the auditors.
That’s why the NGO gave them, with little support, to interns.
X was working on one such loser, Earth, and its
obnoxious, stupid, and self-centered “dominant species,” the humans. X knew, just knew, that if he managed to
save it with such meager resources as he was provided, then the NGO would see he was a gray going places. Then it should give
him a paying job, saving him from harem hell.
But there was so much to do. In the vernacular of
his home planet: Oy vey! Humans still hadn’t admitted to themselves that
if you put a couple of centuries of carbon exhaust into an atmosphere while chopping down all the trees, then you get global
warming. And that was just one of the problems of the stupid live humans. The dead ones at least knew enough to collect onto
the Coke bottle piles in the dead zones.
Help. X needed help. The humans certainly weren’t
going to provide it. A species that never worked out a successful form of birth control would be of no help. By the stars,
they'd never worked out that they were dying! The NGO would be no help either. The staff that worked on the non-loser planets
got ships, matter converters and vid crews to document the whole process so they could sell vid crystals on the rescue of
“cute little aliens.” ("Only $29.95, Sentients!") Just because the NGO was a nonprofit didn’t mean it couldn’t
make gobs of money off vid sales.
Since X worked on a loser planet, he'd gotten some
old equipment from a closet at the NGO’s headquarters. Arriving on Earth, he loaded it into a secondhand VW Beetle that
he used as his office and living quarters.
While X had illusion-casting software, he
didn’t want to waste battery power. Instead, he drove wearing a rubber human mask. If he didn't go above the speed limit
no cop would call him on it.
So X, observing speed limits, drove to Seattle,
Washington. He'd start at the top with arguably the most important man on the planet:
philanthropist and software mogul Bob Doors. Doors was the creator of the Doors Operating System. This was the operating
system that ran the majority of Earth's computers.
If X could get Doors to program into his software
a fifty-point Times New Roman typeface message on the order of “The Earth is dying! Stop using all fossil fuels now
or, or… your head will explode!” –if X could do that, then he might stand a chance.
X looked up at the giant steel fortress that was
Doors’ house. Much of the original structure had been destroyed by flooding. Increasing global warming and the melting
of the polar ice caps would cause storms with a lot more water. Who knew? To protect himself from the riots that periodically
flared up in Seattle (I lost my house, dreams, and family. Why should you keep yours?), Doors had reinforced his little cottage
of sixty-two rooms until it was as impregnable as his ego.
Doors would be a tough nut to crack. While the sight
of a gray coming through your walls might scare the living daylights out of the average human, well, Doors wasn’t average.
He'd survived the cutthroat world of the software industry--so much worse than that of Mangor the Monstrous. He didn’t
scare easily. Furthermore, he was smart. If X didn’t scare him enough, then Doors might notice that a gray’s head,
owing to the lesser gravity of his home planet, is large in relation to its neck. One swift punch could shatter X’s
neck, killing him instantly and then Doors could sell X’s body to the tabloids for millions. Even Bob Doors needed pocket
This guy was dangerous, not just to X’s mission,
but to his life. X wanted to get in, convince Doors he wasn’t just some intern but a “high official of the galactic
empire” (Scary!) who'd come to announce that humans had better cut out fossil fuels or else, and then get out. Or else?
Or else what? Or else Daddy gets a new assistant in the running of the harem. Gag!
X checked his time-space distorter for the thousandth
time. It was old. The NGO had used it on the planet Garth when they saved the Garthoids. That was eight vids ago! Since then
there were sequels like “A Garthoid Out of Glorfax: Now that the Garthoids live on a civilized planet can they figure
it out without pissing off the cops? Wacky hijinks occur;” and, “Garthoid Girls Gone Wild,” and the laugh-a-minute
“The Alien Couple: Can a Carnivorian from Alpha Centauri and a Garthoid live together in the same apartment without
driving each other crazy?”
“Please still work. Please still work.”
X murmured. He and his neck didn’t want to be alone with Doors in a room without his tech.
The bedroom of Doors house: A mist, an all-encompassing, overpowering purple mist (Garthoids are terrified of the color) was coming
through the walls! It engulfed the room, squeezing it, stretching it out to infinity, an infinity of time and space, an infinity
of loneliness. There was only this one room in the whole universe. The mist coalesced into a strange gray humanoid. Its head
was far too big for its body. Its eyes…its eyes, its pupil-less black eyes seemed to see into your very soul. They saw…A
blinding white flash.
The distorter was smoking. “How?” exclaimed
“Portable electromagnetic pulse generator,”
said Doors. He and his wife were lying on a giant four-poster bed made from an ancient redwood. The bed was shaped like a
5.5" floppy, for it was with those that Doors had made his first fortune. What would have been the disk’s hole was a
revolving section designed “for fun time.” From the look on Doors’ face as he held the remote that activated
the EMP, fun time was now.
“Well, well, well, ‘Mr. Alien,’”
said Doors. “Your special effects are good. I don’t know how you got in here, but now the special effects are
dead. Unless you want to join them, go tell your boss Sam Works that nobody, but nobody, breaks into Bob Doors’ house.
Furthermore, if he's still upset about me ‘borrowing’ his operating system …”
“I don’t work for the founder of Kumquat
Computers,” said X.
“You think you can come in here and threaten
my husband, my big, strong Bobby?” asked Mrs. Doors. She slunk over to her husband--just one slunk as she towered over
him. She rubbed a finger, slowly, over his head. “Well, you're wrong. No one hurts my Bobby. My Bobby hurts everybody
else because my Bobby is the toughest and smartest one there is.”
“Damn right!” agreed Doors as he jumped
up and down on the bed, waving the remote at X.
X stared at Mrs. Doors. Humans and grays looked
different, had different biologies, evolved on planets with different gravities. So how come their gold diggers were exactly
him, Bobby. Show him what you do to the competition.”
“Look, I’m not from Kumquat. Okay? I
really am an alien. I came to warn you that your planet is doomed if you don’t do something about it,”
“Oh, please! My Bobby-wobby wasn’t born
“No, I wasn’t, and I didn’t get
to be the head of…”
“He said ‘head',” giggled Mrs.
By the Galaxy! Was Doors really buying her act?
“Later, Babe,” said Doors.
“On the disk drive?” Mrs. Doors
“You know it, Babe.”
Apparently he was. “Look. Global warming
is killing your planet. At the rate you're going you only have about ten years left before the whole planet crashes. You know
about crashes? It will be like a computer crash, but far worse, and permanent.”
“Which is why my Bobby has spent billions
on new alt…alterna…”
“Alternative energy, Babe.”
“Right--what he said. And my Bobby is going
to make even more money from it."
“'Cause I’m a genius. Sally, throw the
X took one look at that towering, angry gold digger
and ran. But Sally Doors had a huge reach (usually into Doors’ wallet) and grabbed him before he could get away. She
picked him up over her head with one hand and carried him out of the room.
“Listen here, you fraudulent alien, and listen
good!” she said. “I didn’t spend a decade blowing my way through Seattle society to get close to that archetypal
Napoleon complex just to let anyone jeopardize my marriage. You go tell that delusional sociopathic boss of yours that if
he ever tries anything like this again he's going to find himself burning in Hell, a computer shoved up his ass, his balls
severed, stretched, and used as a mouse pad for ‘darling Bobby’ in there.
Sally Doors carried X to the servants' entrance
(everyone's a servant to Mr. and Mrs. Bob Doors) and, literally, kicked him out of the house.
“That went well,” said X, checking
his inviso plastic neckbrace. It’s a good thing he'd used the physical tourist products he'd bought from a rest stop
just beyond Pluto instead of his NGO tech for protection or he'd have been dead just like his plan to use Doors was.
X stayed in Seattle to attend the thirteenth
annual Salmon Sci-Fi Convention. Since the top-down approach didn’t work, he'd try it from the bottom up. The attendees
claimed to be science fiction fans. They might also be fans of, and believe in, actual science. X looked out from the lectern
at the conventioneers. They were huge! Not one was under three hundred pounds. Even the kids were three hundred pounds! Doors
may have been a megalomaniac, but at least he was physically healthy. But these people--could you even call them people? They
looked more like planetary spheres! They appeared to be evolving from humans into planets--planets rich with the oils oozing
out of their abundant flesh.
They were so unhealthy. If X got them to be true
believers, if he got them to spread the word, the very effort of giving out pamphlets might cause them to fall down dead of
massive heart attacks. Handing out pamphlets was probably more physical activity than they'd ever done in their entire lives.
“Nice costume,” complimented one of
“Thank you,” said X. “Now, I am
here to talk to you about...”
“It looks just like the gray in the episode
‘What Is it, Mr. Why?’ from two years ago.”
“Oh,” said X. “Now carbon, even though it is the backbone of life, is causing…”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t as good as the
Robot Women revival.”
“Oh, I totally disagree. The Robot Women looked
exactly like they did when Tim Cooper was playing Mr. Why.”
“Well, we all have our favorite Mr. Whys,”
interjected X, “but can we get back to carbon here?”
“Hey, Tim Cooper was the greatest Mr. Why
“Oh, he was a total ham.”
“No, he wasn’t!”
“Yes, he was!”
“Oh, you are such a tribble!”
“Well, you’re a nerf herder!”
“Hey, I liked Paul Solomon as Mr. Why,”
another fan objected.
“Shut up, newbie,” said the two fans
having the argument.
“Will you all shut up about your stupid show?”
said X. “Let’s talk about reality here!”
“How dare you?” cried the entire convention
“Mr. Why is the greatest science fiction program
“If you can’t see that, maybe we don’t
want to spend time in your reality.”
X rubbed his head with his hands. A migraine was
starting. It was going to be a long night.
The long night was over. Dawn was breaking. The
people looked around, confused. They remembered something about a secret government project. Something to do with the space
“What are you doing, maggots?” said
the overly large marine drill instructor.
“Who are you?” asked one of the recruits.
“I am Buford T. Pepper, United States Marine
Corps! For the next eight weeks I will be your mother, your father, and quite possibly your executioner, you worthless sacks
“What are you talking about?” asked
“What am I talking about? I told the congressman
you fat loads of lard wouldn't be suitable for our special, top secret, deep-space simulation mission. But he said, ‘they're
science fiction fans. They get deep space. They'll be perfect.’ I told him that all they're perfect for is drinking
their weight in soda, but I was overruled. He said my job wasn’t to question who they recruited. My job was to turn
them into deep-space astronauts. Now stand at attention.”
“'Deep space' you say?”
The drill instructor snarled, but X, the person
under his illusionary frame, smiled.
X had given up. He couldn’t save Earth. Humans
were too stupid. So he'd done it the old-fashioned way. He went around the convention with a copy of “The Complete Short
Stories of Isaac Asimov” and whacked people over their heads with it. He then rolled the comatose bodies into the hotel
gym. Since the Salmon Con attendees were the hotel’s sole guests that week, it would be the one room that would never
get used--perfect to hide bodies. When he'd gotten enough he made a deal with a passing freighter. It took all the money he'd
saved, but he managed to get the conventioneers into the cargo hold. He then used the freighter’s emergency medical
and defense equipment to treat their head injuries and perform mind bleaches, making them susceptible to his story.
X had eight weeks to make them presentable. Then
he and his charges would show up at the NGO’s door. Maybe he could convince the NGO to initiate a captive breeding program.
Since X was the expert on humans he'd certainly get a job in the program, even if it was low level. It had to work. Didn’t
it? I mean, they couldn’t turn the humans away. How could you turn away the humans? They're pathetic. The NGO had to
pity them. Didn’t it?
Matthew Sideman is a former English major living in Chicago,
Illinois. Like all English majors he has the job that he deserves: office temp. He has temped various jobs from working collections
in a hospital to filing the kinky card file in a phone sex parlor. He has had journalism published in The Chicago Reader
and fiction in the journals Bust Down The Door And Eat All The Chickens and Dark Reveries.