“Get back here, you stupid animal!”
The calf dashed out from under Greg’s arms for the eleventh time, heedless of his yelling. Greg hurled his rope halter after it, exhausted and ticked off. He was going to kill that little bonehead.
It had been half an hour since Jimmy slipped out of his pen, and if Greg didn’t catch him soon, he was going to lose his mind. He’d been looking forward to a few hours’ sleep tonight, not running around in the back pasture. Well, enough was enough. Greg scooped up the rope halter and glared at the feeder calf. He wanted to go to bed, and no hyperactive, half-grown hunk of steak was going to stop him!
The calf made another break for it, but this time, Greg was ready. He lunged and grabbed Jimmy around the neck, bearing him to the ground. Boy and bovine rolled over each other as Jimmy bawled and thrashed, but Greg wrapped all four limbs around its body and hung on until Jimmy stilled. They lay together in the moonlit grass, panting.
“Finally,” Greg grunted. Still lying on top of Jimmy, he maneuvered the rope halter onto the calf’s head. “You are one brainless sack of beef, you know that?” Jimmy mooed pitifully in response.
Exhausted, Greg decided not to get up just yet. It was a long walk back to the house, and Jimmy made for a warm, if boney, pillow.
As he lay on top of his dairy feeder calf in the middle of an empty field, Greg contemplated the fact that this was the most exciting thing he had going for him. He didn’t own a car; he went to a school with less than 300 students; and the biggest event of the year was the county fair. Raising a calf for FFA was about as thrilling as it got. Talk about excitement, he thought sourly.
Greg sighed, scratching Jimmy’s heaving side with one hand. “I’m telling you, Jimmy, if this is as good as it gets, then I better get ready for a really boring life.”
So it was pretty ironic when, right at that moment, they were struck by a blinding beam of light.
Greg lay frozen, shock and terror blinding his brain with panic. He couldn’t move; he couldn’t see. Everything burned white, and a horrifying prickly sensation covered him from head to toe before morphing into fiery pain. The last thing he heard over the deafening hum was Jimmy’s panicked moo.
Then everything went dark.
Greg woke up with a splitting headache and every muscle in his body stiff as a board. He cracked an eye open, only to be met by a white blur. It took a moment for the aches and pains to subside enough that he felt comfortable dragging himself into a sitting position. What in the…?
Greg’s eyes shot wide as memory and vision snapped into focus. He lost his balance and fell back on the floor with a yelp.
He was on a spaceship. There really wasn’t any way of getting around this fact: it was a huge, domed, white-walled room full of blinking lights and weird machinery. A giant screen hung on one wall, and everything glowed with a faint bluish hue. Very few places of Earth origin fit these specifications, with the possible exception of a few more eccentric home designs.
Oh, right: and there were aliens. Two of them, although they looked as different as night and day. One had tough-looking crimson skin and, more noticeably, a pair of huge, thick, concave crests encompassing the sides and top of its bald head like ribbed radar dishes. It vaguely reminded Greg of the Ferengi from Star Trek, except way less ugly. The second alien was blue, translucent, and only vaguely human-shaped, which was a blessing since it wasn’t wearing a spacesuit like the other alien. And they appeared to be arguing. At least, he thought they were arguing. It was hard to tell as they yelled in a series of garbles and blurps.
He’d been abducted by aliens.
What in the ever-living FRICK?!!
Greg slowly sat up again, throat constricting as he took in his immediate surroundings. He sat on a slightly raised square platform in the middle of the structure, the surface smooth and cool beneath his hands. A faintly electrical smell played at his nose, and there was some sort of… what was that? The bluish light on everything began to take new form as Greg focused on it. It looked like a transparent, glowing wall, erected in a perfect cube around him. He stared at it for a long moment. Funky glass, or force field? Did aliens really have force fields? Well, they’ve obviously got beaming technology, he thought with a snort, so maybe the sci-fi movies are right about everything else.
He was just reaching towards the wall to find out when the aliens noticed him. Despite their obviously inhuman natures, the aliens looked humanoid – right down to their suspiciously familiar expressions of panic. Their garbling stopped short, replaced by a long, awkward silence.
“Um…” Greg searched for something to say. Something brilliant that would impress the aliens, or at least stall any plans for dissection. His efforts were derailed by a stray thought that managed to work its way into his mouth: “Where the crap is my cow?!”
Okay, not what he’d been going for, but there it was.
The two aliens gasped, and Greg watched in bewilderment as they raced around the control panels, shouting gibberish. They ran into each other twice, the translucent blue one squishing under the impacts like a sack of jelly. Finally, the ear-fins one found and pounded a button, and a horrible buzzing noise filled Greg’s ears. He yelped as his headache throbbed in protest. Just as suddenly, the noise was gone, and Greg felt something that he could only describe as clarity in the back of his skull.
The squishy blue alien cautiously approached the force-field. Its face, which just hinted at eyes, nose, and mouth, looked nervous as it spoke in a slow voice. “Do… you… understand… me… Human?”
Greg gawked at the alien. “You speak English?”
“No, it’s this translator thingie,” the red alien snapped. “Quit fooling around, Laen. Look, human, slice the chit-chat and tell us how you got on our ship!”
Greg gave him a long, long stare before finding his voice. “How did I get on your ship?” he yelled, voice hitting octaves he hadn’t thought possible. “What are you talking about?! You beamed me up or something!”
Laen, the blue alien, sighed and rubbed his forehead. “That’s the trouble. We weren’t beaming you up.” As if on cue, a frightened moo cut into the conversation. Greg turned to see Jimmy lying on the floor on the other side of the force-field enclosure. The poor calf looked like he had woken up with an even worse headache than Greg’s.
Greg blinked. “You were… abducting my cow?”
The red one stepped up to the force-field, finger pointed defiantly. His nails were practically claws. “Maybe we were. You got a dilemma with it?”
Greg closed his eyes and rubbed his temples, trying to get a more comfortable grasp on his sanity. The fact that he hadn’t started laughing hysterically seemed like a good sign, but best to tread slowly to be safe. “Okay, yes, I do, and I think you meant ‘problem’ just now, but let’s, let’s start over for a sec, okay? Why were you abducting my cow, and why is it strange that I came up with it?”
The two aliens glanced at each other and went into a whispered huddle. Greg watched them for a few seconds, then finally gave up on ever figuring out what was going on and turned to check on Jimmy (and distract himself before he completely lost it). Thankfully, the calf looked pretty out of it; he didn’t need a 500-pound calf panicking on him while they were stuck in close space. Greg gave the calf a sympathetic rub on the head. “No hard feelings, guy, but if they’re looking for a science experiment, you’re on your own.”
The aliens seemed to reach a decision and returned to the force field. Greg straightened and looked at them expectantly. Funny how those faces were human enough to be readable. They looked… embarrassed?
After another hesitant pause, the red alien spoke. “Look… we’re not really supposed to be here, alright?” He shuffled his feet, which were bare beneath his cream-colored spacesuit. “Earth’s fully off-limits if you’re not a researcher, like my dad. Anyway, me and Laen, we thought it’d be a ride to sneak over and abduct one little old Earth cow, right? Finally try several of that famous milk!”
“It’s super exclusive on our planet,” Laen piped up. “What with them having to thieve it from here and all. But you’ve got lots of them, so… who’d miss one, right?” The alien’s amorphous blue form shivered slightly before he blurted, “It was all Zeb’s idea!”
“Anyway,” Zeb stressed, glaring his friend into silence. “We thought we’d be in and out in a few instants. It was just a thing to do, y’know?” He shot Greg a pained look. “But you weren’t supposed to come up with it! Agh, it’s not even supposed to be possible to beam up humans! The transport technology can’t bolt onto your life-signs!”
Well, Greg thought blearily, I guess that explains why it hurt so much. Sort of. His muscles panged at the reminder. But if this was all a mistake… well, at least they hadn’t been trying to hurt him. Despite the obvious species difference, Greg had the sense that these guys were around his age. Their story reminded him of the time a few guys from school took a Lamborghini joy-riding. Apparently teenagers were idiots on every planet.
Greg ran a hand through his hair. “Okay, look… first, can we get rid of this wall thing?” He eyed the force-field warily. “I’m sure we can talk this out.”
Laen glanced at Zeb, who heaved a heavy sigh. “Oh, fine, sure. If he goes calyptic and kills us, at least it’ll save my dad the trouble.”
The force-field blinked off shortly, and Greg stepped out into the rest of the spaceship. Jimmy stayed inside, which seemed wise to everyone involved. Greg felt a little better now that he wasn’t caged, but he didn’t get much time to enjoy it.
“Well?” Zeb paced a few feet in front of him. “Get off with it and tell us how you got beamed onto our ship!”
Greg made a noise somewhere between a sigh and a growl. “I have no idea, alright?” he snapped. “Give me a second to think!”
This was crazy. Greg paced away from the aliens, trying to clear his head. The fact that they were just as lost as him actually had a calming affect on his nerves, but did these two really not know how he’d gotten here? He had to figure this out, at least in case it was the only way to convince these guys to send him home.
Stalling for time, Greg decided to clear up a minor matter. “Okay, before we get on the whole beaming problem, can I point something out to you guys?” The aliens shrugged. Greg gestured towards his calf. “You kinda goofed on the cow front. Jimmy over there is a dairy feeder calf I’m raising for FFH.” They gave him a pair of blank stares. Greg tried again. “He’s a not-fully-grown male cow being raised for beef. He—emphasis on the ‘he’—does not give milk.”
A moment of silence passed, followed by a chorus of groans. “You have got to be kidding me!” Zeb threw his hands in the air. “We cannot possibly be that unlucky!” He whirled on Laen. “This is all your fault!”
“Will you quit blaming me?” Laen protested, his body momentarily shifting into a larger and more aggressive form. He had a softball-sized orb of some pale material floated in the middle of his gelatinous body. “You didn’t know the difference, either! You said find a cow; I found a cow! The radar didn’t show anything else down there!”
Something about Laen’s statement struck a chord with Greg. He covered his ears with both hands, struggling to bring the thought into focus while the two aliens bickered behind him.
Just like that, it all fell into place.
“Guys!” Greg whirled back to the aliens. They were still arguing. “Guys, shut up!” Zeb and Laen broke off and stared at him, startled. Greg was a little surprised himself, but he managed to stuff it down. “I think I’ve got it!”
He immediately had their full attention. “Well?” Zeb demanded. “Spritz it out!”
“What if…” Greg spoke slowly, feeling his way through the theory as he went. “What if something else was… lying on top of whatever you were beaming up? Would the beam… I don’t know, maybe suck up the other thing, too?”
Zeb gave this consideration. “I… guess that transfers,” he muttered. “As far as I know, it’s never happened before.”
Greg’s face split in a triumphant smile. “I bet that’s it! I was lying on top of Jimmy when you beamed us up. He got out of his pen and I’d just tackled him,” he added helpfully. “So when the beam grabbed Jimmy, it got me, too!” Greg looked back and forth between the two aliens. “Well? Is that it?”
Zeb and Laen stared at him for a long moment, and he could almost see the wheels turning. When someone finally spoke, it was Laen. “Wow… y’know, I think that… that really could be it. If he was overtop of the target for transport…” Laen’s face rippled until it was almost a fully-defined human face, which Greg found unsettling but tried not to show it. The shapeshifting alien looked at Greg and added (a little too eagerly), “Do you realize how lucky that was? I bet that’s why your cow looks so dizzy. It’s probably a miracle your molecules weren’t mixed down during reintegration!”
Greg gave the alien a dirty look. “Wow, thanks for that reassuring thought.”
Oblivious, Laen spun back to Zeb. “And it brought up a human unharmed… Blazing sarpus, Zeb, do you realize what this means?”
Zeb wearily rubbed his eyes. “That we are the unluckiest guys in the whole galaxy?” he sighed.
“No!” Laen’s shot brought both boys’ confused stares around to him. The blue alien literally vibrated with excitement. “Zeb, don’t you get it? We’ve made history! We’re the first ever to successfully beam up a human!”
It took a second for this to sink in, but at last, realization dawned on the red-and-blue alien. His eyes widened, mouth opening in shock.
Greg was starting to get the idea, as well, but his reaction was markedly less joyful. A quick survey of the room revealed no exits, so the teenager slowly backed towards one of the walls, shivering at the chill that shot down his spine. This sounds big. Major discovery big. And if it’s that important to them…
But suddenly, Zeb deflated, all the excitement draining from his black eyes. “That’s stellar, Laen,” he said dully. “Too bad we can’t tell anyone about it.”
Despite his own worries about self-preservation, the depression in Zeb’s tone caught Greg by surprise. Before he could stop himself, he asked, “Why’s that?”
Zeb shot him a tired look. “Because we aren’t even supposed to be here. Earth is a restricted zone until the Space Coalition determines if you humans are safe to approach for membership. If we get caught near your atmosphere, we are manxed. At the very least, we’ll be grounded for all infinity. At the worst, we go to jail.”
“But Zeb, if we come back with something as big as this—,” Laen started.
“But we can’t, Laen!” Zeb snapped. “Don’t you get it? They’ll never believe us, especially when we come back with no human on board.”
It took a second for those last few words to sink in. “Does that mean you’re letting me go?” Greg blurted, afraid to believe he’d heard right.
Zeb rolled his eyes—an interesting thing to watch, considering that he had two pupils in each iris. “Of course we are. We didn’t mean to buzz you up in the first place. We’re not abductors.” The teenage alien sighed heavily, leaning back against the ship’s console. “This is all a great big mess. Look, let’s just figure in how to get you and your cow back house. Then we can all play like this never happened.” Zeb snorted under his breath as he turned back towards the front of the ship. “Dairy feeder. Biggest idiots in the whole galaxy, that’s us. Oy, what a night.”
Greg watched silently as Zeb and Laen went to the chairs in front of the ship’s control panels. He should have felt relief; he was going home, where it was safe, and no interstellar lifeforms wanted to hold him and his cow hostage.
But as Greg studied the two downcast aliens, he had the oddest sensation that he was about to miss something. Something big.
The teenager spoke slowly, half afraid to say anything. But he had to know. “Look, guys… why’s it so important for you people to learn how to beam up humans?”
Zeb shrugged. “Part of it is just wanting to advance our technology. But, well…” He gave Greg a meaningful look. “One of these cycles, maybe pretty soon… we could be making contact with you humans officially, right? It’d be key to have stuff like this figured in; beaming is the easiest way to get on and off our orbital craft.” Shrugging again, Zeb turned to one of the control panels, moving dials and switches in a complex pattern. “But like I said, it doesn’t substance. They won’t believe we did it by accident.”
“Unless… you wanted to come with us…” Laen said slowly.
The aliens and the human stared at each other, Laen’s implication hanging between them. For just a moment, much to Greg’s personal disbelieve, he felt his anxieties about alien abduction being eclipsed by real interest. Think about it, Greg. Traveling through space! Kicking it with real space aliens! This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…
And you DID just say you were bored…
…No. No way! “This is crazy!” Greg groaned, scrubbing his hands through his hair. “I cannot possibly be dumb enough to consider this!”
“Look, I know it sounds mental,” Laen said quickly. “But think how giant this is! This is, like, a major scientific discovery!”
“Yeah?” Greg countered, his sense of self-preservation beating his sense of adventure back into submission. “And how about the major scientific discovery of finding out what a human’s insides look like? No freaking way!” He folded his arms, furiously dragging whatever marginal common sense he had left out of its corner. “No,” he repeated, with more force than was probably necessary. “It’s a bad idea.”
Zeb was watching him with an air of quiet contemplation now. Greg turned to the red alien for support. “Just take me home. Like you said, this was all a big mistake.”
After a moment that felt like a mini eternity for Greg, Zeb nodded. “We’re not forcing it on him, Laen. Let’s get him house.”
“Well… fine.” Laen huffed, his amorphous face contorting in a way that clearly portrayed disappointment.
As Laen resignedly turned to his half of the control console and the two began setting coordinates, Greg paced impatiently behind them, doing his best to push aside his confused feelings. “…Thanks,” he said randomly. Zeb shot him a puzzled look. “For, y’know. Taking me back. I hope you guys don’t get into trouble over… this.” Greg paused, finding somewhat to his surprise that he meant it. The whole accidental kidnapping thing aside, he was starting to like these guys.
Zeb grinned slightly as he flipped switches on the complicated dashboard. “Thanks. We’re almost back to the right region of atmosphere.” The engines hummed, vibrations working up through Greg’s sneakers. He marveled at how little if felt like they were moving. Was all space flight so smooth? And was that circle on the monitor really Earth? Maybe he could get away with asking for them to pull up a real-time visual; how many people got to see Earth from space…?
His musings were interrupted when Zeb asked off-handedly, “And we don’t kidnap sentients, y’know. Not that we’d need beaming technology to do it, but, I mean, my dad’s on the Space Coalition board and his whole shtick is sanctity of sentient life. Where’d you get that flunk idea?”
Greg blinked, absorbing the question for a moment. He’d never really thought about it before. “Uh… well, it just… movies,” he admitted, feeling sheepish. “You know what movies are? We’ve got a lot of alien movies where they… y’know, take and study humans. Stuff like that.”
Zeb smirked. “That’s it? Nova, you humans are weird.”
Before Greg could reply, an ear-splitting alarm blared out of the room’s speakers. Zeb and Laen looked up at the screen with alarm.
“What’s that?” Greg asked tensely. He caught sight of Jimmy out of the corner of his eye, racing around the inside of the force-field enclosure and mooing frantically.
“Sentry ships!” Zeb yelled. The giant screen on the wall blipped to a new image, revealing a complicated map of the space around Earth. Several red dots were heading towards them.
“Sarpus, Zeb, we gotta get outta here!” Laen stared up at the screen, face sagging with dread. “If they catch us…”
“I know, I know!” Zeb snapped. “Hang off, you guys!” The alien yanked on two control sticks, and Greg stumbled as the ship lurched with a much stronger sense of acceleration. He lost his balance and fell on his rear as their blip abruptly turned and rocketed away from the other blips on the screen.
Zeb was concentrating on several smaller screens on his pilot console. “Laen, get the shields up in case they start firing,” he ordered.
Greg’s breath caught in his throat, and he ceased his attempts to stand. “Firing?” he croaked. “What the crap did you do?!”
“What do you think?!” Zeb growled, eyes locked on the screens. “I told you, we’re not supposed to be here! Earth is restricted space! Now close up and let me drive!”
Greg complied. As Zeb and Laen shouted to each other, Greg watched the blips on the screen give chase and wondered if they were about to be blown to smithereens. Good grief; I am going to die on a freaking spaceship after being freaking accidentally abducted by freaking aliens!
He paused to consider this before muttering, “I guess there are less exciting ways to die.”
Suddenly the whole ship lurched, and Greg thought for a panicked moment that they’d been hit. But when he looked again, the blips on the screen had disappeared. So had Earth. Zeb and Laen were giving each other a complicated sequence of arm movements that might have been their version of a high-five.
“WHOO-YEAH!” Zeb pumped his fist in the air. “Who’s the most nova pilot in the quadrant? Take that, security flowns! They’ll never catch up now!”
Laen melted into a blobby shape in his chair, muttering something about needing a new suit. But Greg couldn’t stop staring at the Earth-less view screen. “Uh… guys,” he said weakly. “I hate to interrupt the party and everything, but… I don’t see home anymore.”
The ship grew quiet as Zeb and Laen exchanged solemn glances. Greg’s unease grew. “You can still get me back home, right? I mean, you got around them the first time…”
Zeb rubbed the back of his neck. “Well… see… that might be a little… tougher, now. See, they know someone’s been there, and… security really raises when they catch sight of someone breaking space like we did, and…” The red alien trailed off, unable to meet Greg’s eyes. “I’m… not sure we can risk it.”
Greg stared at them, trying to come to terms with this statement. He felt numb. “So what you’re telling me is… you can’t take me back.”
Zeb and Laen nodded dismally. “They’ll be looking for us now,” Zeb explained, meeting Greg’s gaze finally with a pleading expression on his eye ridges. “If the warp-drive hadn’t booted in, we’d really be tanked.” The alien teenager looked at the floor again, muttering a bitter word the ship couldn’t translate. “Crespak. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I’m… seriously, I’m really sorry.”
Greg sat down cross-legged on the floor and clutched his face to block out the aliens, and the alien ship, and his whole situation. He needed to think, to process. Fear clogged his lungs, images of home and family flashing through his head with the dark suggestion that he might never see them again. This was bad, this was so, so bad…
Greg paused, letting the thought drift to the forefront. Sure, it only made sense that he was freaking out. That seemed pretty healthy, in his opinion. But that niggling little feeling poked its head back out from under the layers of self-preservation where he had been trying to bury it. And right now, focusing on that seemed much more pleasant than melting into a useless puddle of self-pity.
He couldn’t go home now. At least not yet. Whether he liked it or not, he was stuck in the real-life equivalent of a sci-fi TV show. I can see the movie title now: Greg and the Invasion of the Cow-Snatchers! Or something cheesy like that. The thought managed to bring a small grin to his face. Zeb and Laen noticed it and glanced at each other hopefully.
Well… what the hey. It wasn’t like he had any other options. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.
Greg looked up at last, meeting the gaze of two hopeful aliens. He kept his tone purposefully casual as he asked Zeb, “So, this planet of yours. Oxygen atmosphere and no dissections, right?”
Zeb’s tension broke in a too-loud laugh. “Yeah, you’ll be fine. My dad’ll be too eagered about making first contact with a true live human to let the scientists at you, anyway,” he joked, but the sheer relief on his face spoke volumes. Somehow, Greg had the feeling he could trust these guys.
Greg grinned, and he couldn’t deny a little thrill of excitement that shot through him. The reservations were still there—which was good, because Good Pete, he’d like to believe that he wasn’t completely stupid—but they were getting quieter all the time.
Suddenly, it didn’t look like his immediate future was going to be quite so boring, after all.
(If you see any typos, please let me know! You can read all of my posted short stories by clicking “Writing Shorts” in the top Menu. Thanks for reading! – Jenn H.)