Mount Gravatt, QLD
Jacobson Henry squinted through the telescopic lens. Did people really believe that there was no other intelligent life except for that on Earth?
The signs were there, after all. There wouldn’t be any need for a million stars if it were just the human race admiring them. And what about the Siding Spring Observatory? Secretly, it was probably monitoring for life on other planets at this very moment. And the most obvious question of all: would Jacobson be out here, night after night, interpreting the static noises on his replica Intergalactic 320 Telecommunications Radio if he wasn’t convinced now that something or someone else did exist in outer space?
He peered through the telescope even harder and held his ear tight to the radio receiver. The planet X20986, also known as Malecrador, was definitely out there, even if astrologists weren’t aware of its existence yet. The undiscovered planet’s inhabitants had convinced Jacobson only days ago that they were alive and well. These were the noises he heard, the static buzz of intention; occupants of an alien nation were speaking to him.
Yes, speaking to the insignificant, introverted Jacobson Henry, who was constantly mocked by his twelve-year-old classmates because of his stargazing tendencies. Now those kids would have to eat their words like they were super-sized cosmos worms. He’d be more popular than anyone could imagine. Then they’d want him at their birthday parties, their camping trips, even their sleepovers. Maybe he would become the world’s most renowned astrologist, or even better, the world’s first intergalactic peacekeeper. Not that the Malecradors had threatened any harm towards Earth in the past few nights they had exchanged small talk, but if Jacobson could speak to another race, if he could translate what they said for government leaders, officials, presidents even, he’d be more sought after than a teenage heart throb centre stage at a world concert. Heck, he could be the next world leader. He would have something no one else around him had; something everyone else wanted. He’d be in demand.
‘Wa do mak a linkin.’
Jacobson’s heart hammered with adrenalin as he snatched at the translation guide in his backpack. Flipping through the pages, his palms sleek with sweat, he spelled out the words.
What are you doing?
He grinned. The Malecradors had proven to be a curious bunch – but not necessarily on expected topics. They didn’t care to learn anything about Earth – they had visited it thousands of times over the past fifty years since they’d finally matured their space travel technologies. They were more interested in Jacobson. What he ate, what he wore, what he did at school, what school was, why he should even go, and what he really thought about his life at this very moment. He liked their line of questioning – he had plenty to say on all those subjects that no one else was particularly interested in hearing.
Jacobson flipped the translation guide over and around and flicked through the pages at the back – English to UAL (Unidentified Alien Languages). The guide was generic, but they had understood every word he’d said.
He cleared this throat and spoke clearly. ‘Nion la rekin houting hars.’ Tonight, I have been reading up on shooting stars.
Jacobson heard what sounded like a little giggle on the other end.
‘Cain sek tema?’
He flicked through the guide. Can you see any tonight?
No, negative, he relayed back.
‘Yot heuk nos?’ What about now?
The transmission sounded the clearest it had ever been, up here on his garage rooftop. He glanced through the telescope in order to answer the alien’s question. Malecrador appeared the same size; it hadn’t moved any closer, but he could see shooting stars through the lens – flying this way and that, streaking the sky. He stepped back from the telescope. To the naked eye he couldn’t see anything, not immediately anyway.
Until he saw a host of small dots, green and luminous, zipping in and around the stars. Were these also shooting stars, brighter and more visible to the naked eye? He watched on with awe. Perhaps this was more a meteorite shower.
‘Cain sek me?’
Had the alien just asked what he thought he’d asked: Can you see me?
The green objects were coming closer now, and one in particular was more clearer than the others. Jacobson locked his eyes onto that one. The green object was a circular disc shape, with a towering cylinder that appeared to be ascending out of the centre of the disc. It lifted high into the air, and with mind-warping speed, throttled through the sky, hurtling towards Jacobson and his front yard; once a dot, then suddenly the size of a car.
And it made a most unusual noise as it landed.
A squirt, squat, squish, really, or so it sounded to Jacobson. Not unlike a sound where items of clothing are dropped sopping wet onto bare tiles.
It bounced across the driveway, over the front lawn, kicking up mud and grass as it hopped his way. The green cylinder had come away from the circular disc, and now stood erect on the lawn. With a buzz and a zap, a panel in the cylinder lifted up, and out hobbled a slimy green creature with webbed feet, leap frogging down the platform. Two bulbous eyes stared up at Jacobson, who had dropped to his knees in shock. He reached aimlessly for his translation guide, now lost in the commotion. It had dropped to the ground below.
‘Hello.’ The green alien lifted a hand – only two fingers – and waved.
‘Hello,’ stammered Jacobson. He leapt to his feet as the alien moved forward.
‘Pleased to meet you after all this time, Jacobson.’
He knew his name? So, was this the alien he’d been speaking to these past few nights? Jacobson clambered to his feet, his knees shaking. This wasn’t helpful, all these jittery nerves. He needed stay calm, focused.
‘I don’t understand,’ Jacobson said, pushing through the astonishment in his voice. ‘I mean, what are you doing here? You’re billions of light years away, aren’t you? I mean, weren’t you. We were just speaking …’ He slapped a hand to his mouth. ‘You’re speaking English?’
‘Part of the time zone,’ the alien said, grinning. His mouth opened wide to reveal sparsely placed but sharp catfish-like teeth. ‘Or what we call planet zone, actually. We adapt. Or I will. I’ve decided to leave Malecrador after our conversations these past few nights.’
Jacobson’s mind flipped in disbelief – at the strangeness of the situation, at the fact he had a real life alien in his yard. ‘But why ever would you do that?’
The glowing green creature considered the question. ‘Many reasons,’ he finally said. ‘The traffic, I suppose, and the smog. And then there’s the matter of accommodation.’
‘Really? So where will you go? I mean, you can’t stay here …’ Just the sight of the alien seemed alien. He, she, it, couldn’t possibly live here.
‘Oh, no.’ It shook its head, all green and bobble-like. ‘There’s plenty more places to inhabit besides Malecrador.’
Jacobson felt dizzy with the last few minutes. Up on the garage roof, the sky felt darker, heavier than it had before, as if the entire black mass might open up and swallow him whole. This could not be happening, this could not be happening …
‘So, what do you think?’ the alien said.
Jacobson shook his head until it felt less muddled. ‘What do I think? About you leaving your planet to move to another?’
‘Yeah, sure. You seem like a bright kid. I trust you. How’s it sound? Crazy?’
Jacobson glanced to the sky. Moments ago, thousands of tiny green dots lit the sky. Where were they now?
‘You’re not going by yourself are you? Why, you’ll be the only one like you if you turn up. What if the inhabitants there think of you as a …’ He paused. He couldn’t say freak. The little alien seemed so harmless, so friendly. What would conquering a new planet be like? What would be more alien than feeling alien on a new planet? The emotions didn’t seem so foreign to Jacobson; it’s how he’d felt nearly every day of his own life, here on Earth.
‘I could give it a go,’ the alien said with enthusiasm. ‘I mean, my buddies that took off with me, they’re off to Juilabera. I heard it’s not bad there, a bit icy though. I don’t want icy again. We had icy for two thousand years. That’s why we look like this now.’ He pointed to his webbed feet. ‘Had to adapt to all that water once it melted. Who would have thought that building spaceships wasn’t so good for the atmosphere? Say, your planet’s pretty grubby too you know. We see it from Malecrador most nights. Won’t be long before you’re all swimming too. Adapting, like we did.’
Jacobson shuddered. There was no maliciousness in the alien’s words, just a matter-of-fact, been-around-for-two-thousand-years’ kind of wisdom.
Suddenly, a voice called out. ‘Jacobson Henry, are you still out there? How much longer are you going to be?’ And then the quiet words that followed: ‘That kid; there’s something not right with his head.’ His foster mother.
He called back. ‘Um, sure. Be right there.’
The alien looked at him with those big eyes. ‘Does that mean you might be missed if you came too?’
‘Hardly,’ he said, shrugging. ‘Say, how long did you say it would take you to find another planet?’
‘Well, I didn’t, but at best, probably two nights.’
Could Jacobson steal away for two nights? He’d need an excuse. It couldn’t be a birthday party; they didn’t go on for two days. A sleep over perhaps, on a weekend, with one of the boys from school? That might work, although he’d have to make up the host of activities they were going to do so his foster mother thought it genuine. Would she believe him? Would she care? He could always tell her he had a new friend. That wouldn’t be an entire lie. ‘So, do you think this new planet might need, you know, some sort of leader?’
The alien considered this question too, his eyes rolling back and around in his head. ‘It’s possible,’ he said. ‘I’m hoping to find a planet that has no inhabitants, so yes. Let’s make that our first order. Let’s find an uninhabited planet. It’s better for one’s health that way. No pollution, that sort of thing. Be our own masters of our fate, and all that.’
Jacobson felt a thrill tickle his spine. This could work. Discovering new planets, speaking to other life – he didn’t need to tell presidents – he could be his own president, on his own planet. Life had suddenly become a little more achievable. ‘How about you stay with me for a few days?’ Jacobson said. ‘We’ll hide your ship in the shed, and on the weekend, we’ll sneak out for a long sleepover.’
‘A what?’ the alien asked.
Jacobson was already clambering down from the garage roof. ‘Never mind,’ he said. ‘A sleepover is what these inhabitants call it here. Let’s make up a new word for it when we find a new planet.’
Bio: Tamara’s short stories have been published in e-zines and anthologies, both in Australia and the USA. She has qualifications in professional writing, has placed in the Glass Woman Prize twice, and was selected to stay at Varuna, the Writer’s House in a professional residency program with author Marele Day in October 2011.