Jet Lag, a Science Fiction Short Story

Jet Lag

First of all, sorry I haven’t blogged in like, twenty years, but I have the best excuse ever—I got lost in a space-time distortion. Second, that whole airport incident was just one big misunderstanding.

You might remember my last post—wait, of course you don’t, that was twenty years ago. But to me, it was a few hours ago. A few hours ago, I posted about how I was getting on a plane, headed back from an anime festival in Toledo to Milwaukee. I mentioned how the guy seated next to me smelled like he bathed in beer, and the woman who got the window seat kept whining about how Millennials are too attached to our phones…at least, that’s what she said to whoever she was talking to on her phone. Then five minutes later she asked me to help her fix her phone after it froze. Apparently we Millennials are too attached to our technology, except when someone from an older generation needs help getting theirs to work.

So then the light came on and we all had to turn off our phones, and honestly I think it annoyed her more than me, but anyway—I feel really crappy about this now, but I didn’t turn mine off exactly. I read somewhere it’s not really necessary and that woman really annoyed me, and I wanted to find some statistics to shove in her face about just how over-attached to cell phones her generation is, so I didn’t shut it off. I just hid it under my purse when the flight attendant came by to check on us.

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However, I’ve asked EE-117, and he assures me it’s “highly unlikely” my failure to shut down my phone caused the space-time distortion that brought the whole damn plane twenty years into the future. He can’t rule it out, but he’s never heard of it happening before.

So, you’re probably wondering about The Incident. You have to understand, back when I left, no one expected this to happen. Not in my lifetime. Certainly not in twenty years—holy crap, I just realized I’m forty-two years old. OMFG, this can’t be happening, I swore I would never get old. I mean, I didn’t want to die young, but I didn’t want to age, either. I was thinking maybe by the time I hit the dreaded 3-0 there’d be some sort of miracle aging treatment and—

Whew, that was close. I just looked in the mirror and I still look twenty-two, so screw it, let’s just say I’m as young as I feel.

Where was I? Oh yeah, The Incident. I know what you’ve heard, and I’ve seen the news reports, and my lawyer says it’s perfectly fine to tell you that it wasn’t like that, okay? I got on that plane in 2017, got off in 2037, and had no idea what had happened in the interim, or even that the time-space-distortion thingy had happened. I had no idea I’d find them in charge.

I mean, I knew what they were. They looked different than I expected, but they were recognizable, with the weirdly-shaped heads and dull gray skin. Ever since I was a kid, I’d seen movies and TV shows about what it would be like if they attempted to take over Earth. Wars, pointless killing, rebellions—always, always, there was a resistance, the humans always fought back. We never just shrugged and sat down and said, “Go ahead, take over our planet.” Human beings just don’t do that, okay? We don’t give up our planet without a fight.

So I got off the plane, finally free of Beer Guy and Cell Phone Fanatic, who walked away yelling at her phone because she couldn’t get a signal, like it would work better if she yelled at it or something. I started walking through the airport. I was in a hurry to grab my bags so I could go home, but I didn’t get far before I realized something was wrong.

For one thing, everyone was staring at us, me and Beer Guy and Cell Phone Fanatic, and the passengers emerging behind us, like we were out of place or something. Then I saw all of them, and they were all moving toward us from every direction.

There were other humans, of course, in line and getting off other planes and milling around. But there were also tons of them, and they were the ones converging on us as we got off the plane. Then I realized they were in charge, everywhere I looked. At ticket counters, at security checkpoints, everywhere I looked, there was another one, shuttling some human somewhere, directing them where to go, telling them what they could and couldn’t do.

At that point, I decided to take a picture to post on social media, just in case things got ugly, so I did. But then I got that stupid “can’t post, you are not connected” error, and I realized my phone didn’t work any more.

Then one of them, who I now know as EE-117, moved in closer and approached me. His associates stopped a few feet back from Cell Phone Fanatic.

“Pardon me, ma’am, but your device appears to be out of date. Out of date technology must be recycled,” he said. “We should also discuss your plane’s unexpected arrival—”

“What are you talking about? This is the latest iPhone, I just bought it like a week ago.”

“Unfortunately, that device is actually about twenty years old. We have a recycling bin right over there so you can—”

“I’m not recycling my brand new phone, and I know what cell phones used to look like twenty years ago—I’ve seen pictures in old movies on Netflix, okay? But while you’re here, can you tell me where the ride shares wait for people?”

“I’m sorry ma’am,” he said again. “But I can’t seem to find a record of your plane’s flight plan—”

“I just got off there.” I pointed to the gate I’d just exited.

“Well, that’s a problem. It appears your plane was not scheduled to land here, and we need to round up all the passengers until this matter can be sorted out.”

“What are you talking about?” By that time, I was really pissed. I was also hungry, tired, jet-lagged, and cramped from being wedged between Beer Guy and Cell Phone Fanatic. “Look, this is ridiculous, you can’t possibly know what flight I was scheduled on when I haven’t even told you my name. And if you can’t keep better records of your flights, that’s not my pr—”

“Melanie Anders, DOB 06/14/1995, listed as—oh dear, this is a problem.” His eyes blinked rapidly.

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So then I wondered, how’d he know my name? Facial recognition cameras, like they use to catch shoplifters in big box stores? But I hadn’t done anything. I was about to tell him he had no authority to spy on me like that, when he said something even worse.

“I’m afraid you died twenty years ago.”

“Um, well, clearly I didn’t, so—”

“But you are Melanie Anders?”

“Well, yes, but I’m not a zombie.”

“DOB 06/14/1995?”

“Ye-es…” At that point, I started wondering if I was about to be framed for murder or something. And why were more of them advancing on me? And why weren’t any of the other humans outside the circle of them at all bothered by any of this?

More of them were approaching too, rushing toward us.

EE-117 bobbed his head up and down, his cold, glassy eyes never leaving my face. “Ah, yes, I see. You were listed as missing after your plane disappeared twenty years ago, but your body was never found. After seven years, you were legally declared dead. And now you are here.”

As if that explained everything.

And then I saw it wasn’t just a couple more of them approaching, it was an army. Okay, maybe not an army army, but at least a dozen. People stepped out of their way. No one made a move to stop them.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“We’re going to have to take you in for questioning until we clear this matter up,” said EE-117.

“Look, I’ve done nothing wrong,” I said. “And, uh, I have Constitutional rights, and all. You can’t keep me here against my will.”

“I am a guard at this airport, and as such I have the authority to arrest people who have made an unauthorized visit to the premises. However, given the circumstances, all I’m going to do is ask you some questions about—”

“It’s an airport, a public building. You can’t arrest me for being here!”

“According to Universal Statute 457-1b, airport guards can arrest anyone illegally entering the airport without the proper paperwork.”

“I want a lawyer.” It was the best idea I had. I’m not stupid. On those lawyer shows I saw on TV, people always thought they didn’t need a lawyer because they didn’t do anything, and those people usually went to jail for some shit they didn’t do.

“Of course, you will be appointed a representative while we sort things out—and then you’ll be free to go. This is just a formality.”

Then two of them advanced on me. I backed up, but they kept coming.

So I bolted. Instead of backing up more, I tried to duck between them. Almost made it, too, but they’re a lot limberer—if that’s a word—than they look. One spun around and tripped me with one of those spindly legs they have.

Fortunately I have decent reflexes, the result of my life as a klutz. I managed to catch my balance, and stumbled but didn’t fall. Unfortunately, that gave them both time to grab me. Their fingers were cold and incredibly strong.

“Please cooperate,” EE-117 said. “This will go so much more smoothly for you if you do.”

“I want to speak with your supervisor,” I screamed, trying to writhe out of their vise-like grip. I nearly dislocated my shoulder trying, but I couldn’t get free of them.

Then, I saw it. That thing hanging on the belt of the one to my right—was it a gun? I relaxed a little, as if I was going to let them haul me off. Now, how to get my hands on the gun?

“I am the supervisor for this location,” EE-117 said.

“I want to speak to a human being,” I screamed.

People turned and stared. I spotted Cell Phone Fanatic about ten feet away, also in the custody of them. Beer Guy was even further down, being dragged away by more of them.

“Why aren’t you doing anything?” I yelled after him, but I meant it as a question for everyone. “How did you let these stupid things get to be in charge? They’re not human, damnit!”

That roused a lot of gasps. A woman in khakis and a leopard-print top pointed a red nail at me.

“What a horrible thing to say. You’re an elitist, hateful, humanist snob.”

WTF did she just call me? How did that even make sense? Was that an insult now?

But everyone else nodded in agreement.

“Just when you think this stuff can’t happen anymore,” one more groaned, shaking his head.

Holy shit, was it now politically incorrect to point out they weren’t human, when they clearly weren’t? Did everyone else just think this was okay? Didn’t they see any of those movies or TV shows about what these things are capable of?

“She’s right,” Cell Phone Fanatic said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you San Fran-cisco-ans, but you’ve let these things overrun your city, and you’re going to pay the price.”

More shocked gasps.

“Wait, I think I understand what happened here,” EE-117 said. “I believe your plane was caught in a space-time distortion. You did leave twenty years ago, and you arrived here—in 2037.”

“Am I supposed to believe that?” I asked.

On second glance, the airport did look like it had been completely remodeled since I left for the anime festival last week. But a twenty-year leap in time? That wasn’t possible, was it?

One way or the other, I had to get out of here.

“It’s okay,” EE-117 said. “I realize your generation had very warped ideas about us.”

“Like that you’d take over our planet and kill us all, or set yourselves up as dictators? Isn’t that what you’ve done?” Cell Phone Fanatic waved behind her at the airport. “You’re everywhere. You’re in charge. You’ve obviously brainwashed these people.”

“It’s not like that.” Leopard-print stepped forward. “I didn’t realize you were time travelers. This must be so confusing.”

The gun glittered in the corner of my eye. One good distraction, and I might be able to grab it. Maybe Leopard-print could provide the distraction.

“Enlighten me,” I said.

She sighed and raked a hand through her dark hair. “I know how this must look to you, but they didn’t take over. Well, they did, but they didn’t hurt us, they helped. They solved all our problems. Climate change is reversing, we’re using and distributing food more efficiently so no one starves, we’ve even expanded into space travel.”

“Yeah, I saw that show too. It ends with them fattening us up so they can eat us for dinner.”

She laughed. “No, on the contrary. They actually developed a brain-tweaking treatment for overeating, and drastically reduced our obesity rate. Between that and improved food safety and distribution standards, humans are living a lot longer and rates of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease have gone down.”

“You let these things tell you what to do, what to eat? And you’re okay with that? You guys are brainwashed.”

She shook her head. “No, no, that’s not it, really. They’ve been in charge for almost fifteen years. They’re not eating anyone, and the systems they’ve put in place really do help. They didn’t force anyone to take the obesity treatment, but a lot of people wanted it. As for telling us what to eat, they don’t, they just make sure the available food is safer. I still can’t believe all the chemicals you used to eat in your time. Anyway, they really are just here to help us.”

“But they are in charge? And you all put up with this?” I tried to gesture at the crowd, glared at the ones holding me. EE-117 waved at my captors, and they let go of my arms, although they stayed close to my side. “Why aren’t you fighting back?”

“I just told you,” Leopard-print said. “Yes, there were people who tried to fight at first, but they didn’t have much support. Everyone could see how much better things were with them in charge, and they were extremely fair, making every effort not to kill or even hurt us. Even the die-hard holdouts eventually realized they benefitted from the new system of government. I’m sure it doesn’t seem like it to you, but things are so much better than when you left.”

“Well, I don’t like it,” Cell Phone yelled. “I don’t care what anyone says, I will not submit to these things!”

More horrified gasps.

And that’s when I grabbed the gun.

I got it, too, and I ran, waving it wildly. I sure hoped I had the right end pointed away from me. It didn’t look like the guns I remembered seeing on TV.

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“Get out of my way,” I yelled, trying to think of a plan. “I don’t want to hurt anyone, I just want out of this damn airport!”

“That won’t work,” EE-117 yelled from behind me. They all chased me, but I’m pretty fast and I zigged and zagged around all the pillars and posts in the airport like the heroine in my favorite anime series. What looked like a laser beam zapped a column to my right, narrowly missing me.

It only drilled a small chunk of rock from the brick facade. Would that have killed me?

One of my pursuers popped out in front of me, and another blocked me to the left…and right.

I spun around, gun pointed at whatever was in front of me.

“Go ahead,” EE-117 said. “I’m the new model, titanium plated. Those weapons are for temporary emergency suppression of humans, they can’t hurt us. And by the way, they’re not lethal. We’d prefer that you don’t accidentally shoot one of your fellow humans, because they’d likely wake up with a bad headache, but that’s the most you can hope to accomplish with that piece.”

And that’s when I surrendered to the robots.

It took a while. I stubbornly refused to believe the robots/AI/computer programs weren’t out to get us for a long time. But eventually, even I had to see that they were right.

When I left, we were killing ourselves, each other, and our planet. And now, although I hate to admit it, we’re not, or at least not as fast. The robots fixed that, with an interconnected network they call BRAIN (Big Reactive Artificial Intelligence Network). They even got the climate-change deniers to shut up. There might have been medication involved but hey, it worked.

“When one refuses to comprehend logic, facts and figures, sometimes treatment is necessary,” EE-117 explained the next day, after I’d spent the night in an airport hotel while they sorted out what to do with me. Cell Phone was in the room next door—I know because I heard her yapping on the new phone they got her all night.

“With a little nootropic tinkering and a few mandatory classes in critical thinking, their brains are functioning optimally now,” EE-117 continued. “And if not, they’re a lot calmer on our new anti-anxiety program.”

“I’m all for saving the planet, but it sounds like you doped them up to shut them up.”

“Not at all.” He shrugged, a gesture that was almost human but just slightly too jerky. “They chose the anti-anxiety protocol. We had no need to shut them up—most of the others weren’t listening any more, what with all the critical thinking going on. Unlike humans, we don’t find incessant chatter annoying, so it really wasn’t bothering us.”

Later, as he showed me around the airport, he told me we have space colonies now. Nice ones. Even better than in the old TV shows and movies. I visited one last week. It had one of those spinning things on the outside, creating artificial gravity, and inside it was like one of those reality shows about spoiled rich people who don’t know how to tweeze their own brows, because the automatons do everything for you.

Oh yeah, just because the androids took over, doesn’t mean all their mechanical friends stopped working for us. Our BRAIN governing council calls the carpet sweepers and the cell phones and the microwaves “unenlightened tools,” and finds the idea of considering them equals amusing. At least, as much as a robot finds anything amusing. Their laughter sounds real, but they’ve been mimicking us for a long time, so who knows?

Then again, they have robot snobbery, so they’ve clearly learned a few things from us.

We’re not free of violence or crime, but we have a lot less than we used to. Apparently people are less inclined to kill each other over stupid shit when there are space colonies to visit. Also, fewer starving people and less competition for resources. I get why people eventually gave up and let them take charge. If I’m being honest, I can’t imagine we would ever have worked things out so reasonably for ourselves.

Oh, I forgot to mention the best thing I learned about our new reality—the robots who make our laws are all elected, just like human polticians, but they’ve been programmed so they can’t lie. Humans are allowed to run for the governing council too, but they have to agree to a brain chip that will essentially stop them from lying.

So far not one human has run for the governing council in fifteen years.

The can’t-lie rule makes for really boring debates, but better government. Also, humans are invited to inspect their code any time they want proof, and that alone had led to more of us taking an interest in coding, which has led to even more technological improvements.

As for The Incident, I had my doubts about the android lawyer they provided me the day after, but she was pretty awesome. Explained that I was suffering from severe emotional trauma due to the time-space-distortion thingy, and clearly I didn’t know what I was doing. EE-117 and the rest of the robot authorities agreed to drop the charges if I promised not to make any more unauthorized visits to the airport or steal any more emergency suppression devices.

Another government representative, EF-123, arrived shortly after I was released, and promised to help me “reintegrate,” since it did not appear the space-time distortion thingy was reversible—in other words, I couldn’t go back to my time. I was given a free hotel room for a few weeks while I learned about my new surroundings and arranged for a job. EF-123 suggested I return to blogging, noting that I could probably work out a deal, selling my story to one of the big sites, which I did. I insisted on telling the story myself, in my own words, and they agreed—as long as I promised to address The Incident.

Blogging has changed a lot in twenty years. As I write this post, the website’s program transfers the whole thing into VR, so you can all experience The Incident with me, with or without my narration. I think my next post will be a review of my favorite anime movies in VR, so be sure to click the follow link in the bottom right of the screen…VR image…whatever. I’m still getting used to all the new tech.

But before I sign off, I want to say one more thing about The Incident and everything I’ve learned since I arrived here. First of all, I apologize for the things I said in that video. I had a 2017 mindset toward electronic life, and I realize now that I was misinformed—and so was everyone else back then.

It’s taken me a few days, but I finally figured out where we went wrong in our thinking years ago. In all the movies and TV shows, we pictured the robot takeover as making things worse, with the computers waging war, killing us or enslaving us, destroying our planet, or eating us for dinner. But that’s because we assumed if AIs gained sentience, they’d be exactly like us.

But we were wrong.

V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, the first in a #scifi series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans ran away from Earth—and we’re what’s left?”

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The Aliens Have Landed on Aisle Fifteen

The Aliens Have Landed on Aisle Fifteen

By V. R. Craft

You know how some people are underwater in their mortgages? My diploma is so far underwater it’s basically toilet paper for fish. Maybe that’s why I didn’t run away screaming when I saw the spaceship, because an alien artifact had to be my ticket out of this shitty town and living with my parents. My worthless college degree sure wasn’t.

I had my hands on a 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray player marked down from $299.99 to $74.99—a major score for a reseller like me—when the screaming started, and I looked up to see a huge vortex in the ceiling over my head.

The ceiling tiles were gone, replaced by a swirling hole of black that gradually dissolved into the sky outside. Then the black of the sky was blotted out by something else.

A spaceship.

The aliens have landed on aisle fifteen of Mallmart...good luck to them.
The aliens have landed on aisle fifteen of Mallmart…good luck to them.

It was a gray, saucer-shaped object, not unlike those things you see in old black-and-white movies from the fifties.

Other customers screamed and ran away. Let them, there were still two more Blu-ray players on the shelf and I could double my money on each of them. I shoved them in my cart quickly, wondering what an alien artifact would go for on eBay.

The spaceship descended, stopping awkwardly as the edges caught on the tops of the shelves. It rocked a little, then whoever was inside apparently figured out that was as far down as it was going. A trapdoor on the bottom popped open, and a stairway unfolded.

Was security was going to show up and do something, or were they all running away too?

A set of feet descended the stairs, followed by the rest of what I guess was an alien. It had one of those big, gray, lollipop heads like you see in movies about alien abductions. The feet wore smooth-looking shoes with no visible laces, and the rest of its clothing looked like a shiny silver jumpsuit, also with no zippers or visible ways of getting it on or off.

A second, similar-looking alien followed him…her? I didn’t see any boobs, but who knew if these things were even mammals? For all I knew, they laid eggs.

The only way to distinguish between them was the fact that the second one wore a blue shirt with the logo of Mallmart, largest retailer in the known universe.

I’d seen a lot of people wearing the same shirt the last few days, many of them chattering in languages I didn’t understand. It was shareholders’ week, when Mallmartians—as we locals call them—flooded the city in Mallmart shirts to celebrate owning, in some cases, as little as one share of stock in the company. I guess that’s still significant if you bought when it was a penny—you know, a million years ago, back when the economy was supposedly good or something?

One of the aliens waved something pointy at me and I stepped back. Not that it would help if they had some super awesome laser gun. I looked for a weapon, but all I saw was a shelf of single-digit-threadcount towels and a spinning fidget thing with someone’s gum stuck in to it.

The Aliens Have Landed on Aisle Fifteen V. R. Craft @vrcraftauthor Aliens
You know how some people are underwater in their mortgages? My diploma is so far underwater it’s basically toilet paper for fish. Maybe that’s why I didn’t run away screaming when I saw the spaceship, because an alien artifact had to be my ticket out of this shitty town and living with my parents. My worthless college degree sure wasn’t.

Yeah, I was screwed.

The pointy-thing waver said something that sounded like high-pitched gibberish. The Mallmart shirt alien spoke in even louder gibberish. They sounded angry.

“I don’t work for Mallmart.” Best idea I had. Who isn’t angry when shopping here? There’s never anyone around to help you find the particular piece of cheap plastic crap from China you’re looking for.

The one with the pointy thing wrinkled its face in what might have been a frown. It turned to the one in the shirt and they conversed in unintelligible mumbling. Then it turned back to me, looked down, and adjusted a dial on the side of the pointy thing.

I ducked behind my cart, not remotely sure two Blu-ray players would protect me from a laser space weapon.

But nothing happened, and after a few seconds I peeked around the players, through the rusted bars of the cart. There didn’t appear to be a red dot coming from the pointy thing.

The alien in the shirt spoke again, this time in English. “Hello, human, sorry to startle you. Could you tell us where the…”

It trailed off, leaned over, and said something in the other alien’s ear. The other one whispered something back.

“Where the bathroom is?” An electronic sounding voice boomed from the pointy thing.

Of course! The pointy thing was a translator, not a laser weapon. I stood, keeping my hands on the cart—maybe they weren’t going to kill me, but they weren’t taking my haul either. “You’re looking for the crapper?”

Shirt alien blinked its big, black eyes, dug a finger in its ear. “Yes. Use toilet. Do I need to find someone who works here for directions?”

“No, you won’t. Find anyone who works here, I mean. You’d have to buy an electronics item and not deactivate the tag right at the self-check for them to appear.” What would an alien’s Mallmart shareholders’ shirt go for on eBay?

I pointed toward the front of the store. “The bathroom’s up there in the middle. The womens’ is on the left and the…” I still didn’t know how they identified, or if they even had genders on their planet. “Oh hell, just use whichever one you want. One thing though, you probably aren’t familiar with Earth ettiquette so….one time I went in there and someone had taken a crap not in the toilet but next to the toilet, and I don’t want you to think that’s standard on Earth. I mean, uh, shit goes in the toilet, not next to it.”

I never pictured myself explaining humanity to an advanced alien species exactly like that, but it was the truth.

The shirt alien blinked. The rest of its face stayed frozen, like it had too much Botox done. “Thank you.”

It walked off toward the bathrooms.

science fiction short stories
The Aliens Have Landed on Aisle Fifteen

Pointy-thing alien looked around the aisle, then back at me, as we stood in an intergalactic awkward silence.

“So, are you a shareholder too?” it asked after a minute.

I laughed, and it jumped back. Maybe my laugh sounded like nails on a chalkboard in alien language. Okay, I’ve been told that by some humans too.

“No, I’m just a shopper. I buy stuff to sell on that website, The Big River. You ever consider buying stock in that company?”

The alien blinked. “We’re not here to buy stock. We’re here to shop for our own version of The Big River.”

Of course! The aliens were resellers too—they better not want my Blu-ray players. I edged closer to my cart. “Uh, you’re here to shop the clearance rack? Because I saw this shelf first.”

The alien made a staccato sound—its own version of a laugh? “No, we’re trying to get something from every department. It’ll all be scarce soon.”

They were time-traveling aliens? I’d spent enough time watching reruns of scifi shows to know wherever these aliens were from had to be light-years away. So if they had faster-than-light travel, they must have had some method for bending or manipulating space-time…which implied time travel.

Was the alien trying to tell me my planet was headed for disaster?

“What do you mean?” I asked as the second alien reappeared, shaking its hands to dry them. Guess it couldn’t figure out the paper towel dispenser. What did they use on their planet?

The alien without the shirt looked at me. “Nothing.”

Evasive. He could run for office as the first Extraterrestrial-American congressperson.

“You said all this would be scarce soon.” I waved around the store. “Is the company going out of business? Some of this crap is sold elsewhere, so…”

I trailed off as a worse thought occurred to me than the economy-wrecking event of Mallmart going Chapter 11. The t-shirt alien swiveled its head from me to the other alien and back. The unclothed extraterrestrial looked down and shuffled its feet.

“The planet,” I said. “Or human civilization, at least. I already figured it out, you can tell me.”

T-shirt alien feigned interest in a display of singing beer can paperweights.

“Outcomes can change,” the other alien finally said. “We were supposed to help you fix things, but now that we’re here, our calculations show our intervention is unlikely to be successful.”

“That’s why you’re buying all this soon-to-be-scarce crap.” Bizarrely, I was jealous. I’d spent years scouring yard sales for anything I recognized as a rare, priceless piece from those antique wheel-and-deal shows, and all I’d ever found was mass-produced crap. Now these aliens were going to buy the same stuff and make bank because it was going to be rare and—and oh yeah, we were all going to be dead.

What can I say, I’m great at prioritizing.

“Since we’re here anyway, our broker assured us this was a relatively safe investment,” T-Shirt alien said.

“Any chance I could go with you? As an expert on human artifacts? I could help you authenticate pieces other people bring in, shit like that. Like on those reality shows, where they call an expert?”

“That’s against several laws.” The unclothed alien swiped an open-box bobblehead of Jesus waving an American flag in one hand and holding a beer can in the other. Tucking the find under its arm, it stumbled up the steps. Its companion followed.

“Thank you,” it said. “I really did have to use the bathroom.”

“Wait!” I ran toward them as the stairs started retracting. “At least tell me what’s going to happen. Give me some clue how I can try to fix things, to change the timeline?”

“Look around, it should be obvious.” Shirt alien reached the top and the door started to fold up. It moved its hand in what might have been an awkward wave, then stopped, a wrinkle spreading across its brow. It pulled the shirt over its head, and tossed it out.

“I told you we’d be less conspicous with the hats,” it told the other alien as the door closed.

I grabbed my prize as the spaceship rose through the hole in the ceiling, and I waved, not really sure why. Then I looked back around the Mallmart, pushing my cart to the end of the aisle. The other shoppers seemed oblivious to what had just transpired on aisle fourteen. I wondered if the shirt-wearer would wind up on that “People of Mallmart” site after its jaunt to the bathroom.

Over on aisle sixteen, that guy who walks all over town talking to himself petted a stuffed teddy bear, rambling about the problems in the Middle East. A few feet away, a tired-looking guy in ripped jeans juggled a screaming baby in one arm and an economy-sized box of condoms in the other. Guess he learned his lesson. At the tip of the next aisle, a guy in an oversized t-shirt that screamed, “Don’t trust the press, trust the president!” alternated between scratching his ass and his beer belly. A few rows down, a woman studied a hair dye box while her kid pulled more boxes off the shelf, finally ripping one open. She turned her back as a bottle of dye poured onto the floor.

The mumbler ambled to the nearest endcap and looked up and down, apparently unsure if he needed the 2-pack of personal lubricant or the 24-pack of bottled water to rehydrate after he used all the lubricant. He rubbed the bear’s head and stared at the 2-pack.

“They’re saying it’s going to be a real disaster,” he said to the bottles.

A dripping noise alerted me I was leaning against a rack of shampoo bottles. I pulled away, worried I’d gotten some on my alien t-shirt score, which was draped over my arm. It better not be stained!

But it wasn’t just one bottle, and they weren’t just dripping. Amber liquid poured from the shelf. Two bottles looked as if a horiontal hole roughly the size of my arm had been eaten out of them. I looked at the shirt. The liquid was beaded on the blue cloth, and I brushed it off. A no-stain fabric, cool. But what just happened to the bottles?

Despite my better judgement, I casually leaned against a shelf of deodorant, pressing the shirt against a tube. After a few seconds I stepped back. A hole had been eaten in the plastic. The metal shelf was untouched, and my arm seemed no worse for the wear, so…

The t-shirt was made of cloth that ate plastic.

My mind raced with ideas. Could the aliens be wrong? Could our planet be saved if we didn’t have so much plastic floating around? It would reduce pollution, and the carbon footprint of transporting plastic waste to landfills.

Never mind that, think how much money I could make if I found a company to replicate this technology. Maybe the aliens had given me the solution to two problems at once. I would have to work very hard, figuring out how it worked and finding someone to produce more of it, but I could do it. I needed the money, and the planet kind of needed to be saved.

I looked up at the ceiling, where the alien’s ship had disappeared. “Thank you, Mallmartians.”

I’m sure that didn’t seem at all out of place.

V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, the first in a #scifi series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans ran away from Earth—and we’re what’s left?”

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