I was redirected four times before someone finally put me on the phone with the Department of Extraterrestrial Affairs. “Thank you for holding.” I couldn’t tell if the metallic voice was a true AI or someone who just sounded a bit robotic. “For ET immigration and customs, please press eight. For the ET embassy, please press three –” Huffing, I slammed my thumb into the key as I shoved a couple more coins into the payphone. I was running out of change.
Finally, an organic voice answered. “Extraterrestrial Embassy –”
“Yes, I know!” I snarled, leaning against the wall, “put Lenny on the line! I’ve been trying to reach him for ages – tell him it’s Gamma.” I waited impatiently while the secretary paged Lenny. That lazy good-for-nothing was probably in bed at this hour while I was out here on the streets dealing with a full-blown riot.
“Gamma?” I could hear shouts and shots in the background. Had the revolt already spread to the embassy?
“Yeah it’s me! Len – I’ve been trying to reach you for hours! Why in the name of all the moons aren’t you answering your comm?
“Listen here gum-squat! In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of an emergency over here! We’ve had ten near diplomatic crises in the same amount of minutes – I’ve been runnin’ on booze and bull for well over twelve hours now and I don’t have time to listen to your –” Somewhere in the background glass shattered and Lenny cursed. “Strike that – eleven crises.”
“You’ve been having a night, Len? Then you’d better sit down and fast. This news isn’t pretty.” I glanced down the dim alleyway, counting the seconds my coins would give me on the machine. The rioting was getting closer, it wouldn’t be long before the mob took over most of the city. The acrid tang of smoke and metal filled the air.
“Four more ships landed overnight and the rioting started not long after. They barricaded all of the ghettos and most of the camps – .”
“What?” Hissed Lenny, slamming something onto his desk. “For the love of – is your team still on the streets?”
Lenny swore again, this time in his native tongue. Behind me I could see flames licking the sky. “Alright kid, I need you to listen. I haven’t got the manpower – heck, I haven’t got any power – to get you outta there. So, get your soggy rears off the streets until the rioting is under control or get them to the embassy – I don’t care. But I am not filling out the paperwork if you get yourselves killed for some idiot hero reason, understand?” The phone went dead before I could reply.
I slammed the receiver down, muttering angrily to myself. “Get off the streets, heh? Well, where on this stupid mudball are we supposed to go?”
Just because my team and I didn’t stand out in a crowd as much as Lenny didn’t mean that we weren’t ‘alien’. We stood no chance at getting through the barricades unnoticed, let alone into a ‘safe zone’. That meant getting to the embassy was the only option. I pulled out my comm and tried to contact Eppie. “Gamma to Epsilon-Omicron division, what is your position?”
“Gamma!” Eppie’s squeal nearly deafened me. “The comms have been dead for hours – how are you getting through?”
“Not important. I just got through to Lenny – he’s up to his greasy eyebrows in trouble. He sends his heartfelt condolences and has extended an offer for us to go down with the ship.”
“Meaning that the slimy ole weasel told you to solve your own problems, huh?” Interjected Omicron, his voice muffled and slightly off-key.
“Pretty much. Where you at?” I ducked onto a surprisingly quiet main road and jimmied the lock on a nearby hovercraft. It wasn’t stealing, just . . . temporarily commandeering with no intention of returning.
“Downtown – in the thick of it.” The rest of what Omicron said was swallowed by a fire alarm.
“Can you get out? I’ve got a ride.”
“I can get us to Main Street, maybe, but there are a lot of people. . . ” Eppie grunted with effort. “This isn’t gonna end well.”
“Get whoever you can off the streets – especially people without weapons.” I commanded, zooming downtown. “Get them behind the barricades or in buildings and tell them to stay down. The rest – if a mob mentality has already started, there isn’t any hope.”
Omicron rejoined the conversation with a bang and lots of static. “What’re we supposed to do, Gamma? Tell people not to fight back – to just lay down and take it? We didn’t start it!”
“This is their home world, Om. If they see us as a threat, they are going to treat us like one. Burning down half their city in protest won’t change that.” An explosion shook the nearby buildings and the aftershock blew me into a streetlamp. Cursing, I got to my feet. An angry mob was shouting, “No More Aliens!!!”
“Gamma! Gamma! Are you alright?” Emmie’s voice was distant. I shook off the shock as best I could and clambered back into the hovercraft.
Main Street was on fire by the time I got there. People were fighting in the street, some with guns and others with nothing but their fists. I could barely see through the smoke and debris. “Epsilon-Omicron devison, come in. I am at your location.” I was met with nothing but static. I circled around a toppled-over street sign, keeping an eye out for my friends.
“Gamma! What are you waiting for!” Omicron came barreling out of the smoke, clutching Epsilon in his arms. His pursuers were firing their weapons with wild abandon. “MOVE!” Omicron grabbed the back of my vehicle with one mecha-enhanced hand and leapt aboard. “You guys all right?” I glanced over my shoulder. Eppie gave me a weak thumbs up.
Dawn light was filtering through the thick cloud layer by the time we arrived at the charred shell of the embassy. The city behind us was burning. Lenny was standing out front arguing loudly with a Gallon representee.
“Humans are not hive minds! I had no idea what was going on down there – I lost contact with all my people in the city!” He waved at the destruction, far too busy to notice our arrival. “Don’t go blamin’ us for your mistakes!” The shouting grew louder, alternating between the clicking Gallon language and Lenny’s thick Italian accent.
We watched as Lenny argued on and off with a steady stream of government officials for what seemed like hours. Omicron fell asleep against the side of the hovercraft, Eppie draped herself across his lap, munching on a granola bar. I sat beside them, vid-chating my family back on Earth and assuring them that we had survived the rioting.
Finally, Lenny spotted us and waved a careless hand in our direction. “I knew you tater-tots would make it!” He slammed his phone down just as his comm started to ring. Scowling, he snatched it up but didn’t answer. “Alright, alright. I’m sending you all home ASAP for, eh, dress code violations. Don’t even think about coming back until tomorrow – capiche?”
It was his way of saying thank you for surviving.
Now – I’m not saying that things went completely back to normal after that. They didn’t. But the Gallons didn’t kick us off-planet either, and the one thing humanity does better than anything else is survive in hostile environments.