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Story 2

Harrison V. Perry

 Alvin the Extra-terrestrial is one of the most unusual short  stories I have ever read. Considering the fact that I used to read ten to twenty short stories a month for more than a decade, that is saying something. We always assumed that we would be able to interact with aliens on some level, but what if we couldn't? What if perception depended on the individual? What if it was really important to do that?

The perceptive reader will notice Chinese characters in the text. In some cases the English version and translation of the characters are also included. Do not panic. Understanding Mandarin is not necessary to enjoy the story,

I will leave it to the reader to judge its level of deviation  from the norm.

Harrison V. Perry is a writer and programmer who lives with his partner, Lianne, and their two kitties Ed and Rex, in the sunny South East of England. You can find more of his stories and writings at and also follow his ravings on twitter @harrison_perry.                                                  



Alvin the Extra-terrestrial

by Harrison V. Perry

         The alien, Alvin, breathes the smoky air through gills in his throat. He’s got a mouth -- sans lips -- and coughs whenever I send a puff his way, but never protests. If I had to guess, he kinda likes it. We found Alvin trying to break into Hénéng Nuclear Station. Strobing blue lights, like the Las Vegas strip at midnight, covered him head-to-flippers. His clothing, what’s left of it, is a fine metal mesh that shifts colours and seems to reflect his emotional state. It was blue through and through until we got him into the backseat of the cruiser, and he turned a soft pink.

It’s real human, cultural even, to link colours to feelings. Blue means sky and ocean: freedom. Red means blood: pain and anger. Black means death: sadness and despair. At least, that’s how I draw the lines. But for Alvin, that has to be different; he isn’t from Earth: he’s from the stars. So right away, as soon as I saw that neon blue shift to pink, I made a little note in my pocketbook, linking the colours he projected on his clothes to the events that spurred ‘em on.

He’s lemon yellow at the moment.

I say to him, ‘Ni hao ma?’ for the fifth time since opening this current pack of cigarettes. Alvin slouches back, mumbling in Mandarin, but refusing to answer me.

Whilst Alvin was being booked in, we -- me and my partner Aubrey -- searched around the nuclear station for clues. In a crater about six feet deep and twelve feet wide, flipper prints running up one side of it, we searched for a ship -- a transgalactic vessel. At the bottom, submerged in mud and rainwater, we found a fist-sized sphere, covered in the same mesh material Alvin wears. No way he was fitting in that.

‘You don’t gotta say anything big, you know?’ I tell Alvin. ‘Just give me something, so I don’t look like a clown.’ Let me go out knowing. I’ll knock on those pearly gates with a headful of knowing!

A green wave shimmers through the lemon yellow only to dissolve at Alvin’s bald, blue head where the gold plaque bolted into it gleams.

We weren’t super careful, me and Aubrey, and by the time we’d realised this sphere was about as radioactive as the bombs that blew up Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Aubrey was breaking out in red splotches and I was dry heaving. As soon as we got back to the station we loaded ourselves with the best anti-rads the Bureau of Dangerous Affairs had to offer. But…

‘You’re both dead,’ Doc told us, ‘dead ones walking.’

Aubrey, who’d plucked the sphere from the dirt like it was a truffle and took the brunt of betas and gammas, needed a little more time to process the whole thing.

If I’m dying, I ain’t wasting a minute.

So here I am, Syd Lynch the BDA Officer, in front of an alien. And for a first contact, things ain’t so bad. Why or how Alvin solely speaks Mandarin Chinese is a mystery I hope to get to the bottom of, but I coulda sworn I knew more than How are you?

Alvin’s refused all my offers: water, doughnuts, coffee, cigarettes. The only thing I’m sure he does is breathe. Those gills suck and blow, and he goes a warmish pink when the air-conditioner whines, so I know he likes the air cool -- or at least likes it cooler than the New Orleans swamp air that the Bureau’s AC loses the fight to more than they’re willing to admit.

I sigh, stare right into Alvin’s dark, squid eyes, and shake my head. ‘You were supposed to come down with rayguns. Zap the ape-people, harvest our water or DNA or whatever you can’t seem to find out there.’

There’s a knock on the door, and it’s pushed open before I get a chance to say ‘come on in, I ain’t busy.’ A sweaty looking, just-been-yanked-outta-hospital-bed Aubrey Chen is guided inside the interrogation room by a guy in a hazmat suit.

Aubrey looks at Alvin through the corner of her eyes.

‘It’s alright,’ I say, ‘he still ain’t biting.’

‘Hazmat’ leaves, the door sealing tight on pneumatics.

‘How you feeling?’ I ask Aubrey.

Aubrey smooths down her skirt and sits in the metal chair next to mine. ‘Terminal,’ she says, ‘but thanks for asking, Syd.’ Eyebrows rising a touch, narrow lips curling in her bravest of I’m fucked let’s laugh grins.

I offer her a cigarette, and she declines.

She gets right to it and goes, ‘神秘 on his forehead now -- odd.’

I go, ‘Can’t you read?’ I point at Alvin’s giant, blue forehead (and the gold plaque) --‘it says Alvin. What the hell does shenmy mean?’

‘Shén,’ she corrects.


‘It means mystery.’

‘Not “Alvin”?’


‘But it says Alvin.’

She blinks a few times, rubs an eye. ‘It most certainly says 神秘.’

‘Fuck.’ My cigarette is reaching the bit right before the end, where things start to taste a little damp, so I light another and take maybe four or five drags before saying anything. My hands are shaking.

It’s one thing to find an alien trying to break into a Chinese-owned nuclear power plant, another to discover it has ALVIN bolted to its big, blue forehead, and one last thing entirely to realise the bolted-on word is viewer-dependent.

‘You see gold, right?’

‘The plaque? Yes.’

Ni hao ma?’ I say to Alvin.

His yellow lemon goes pink: he wafts the cigarette smoke into his gills, does the alien equivalent of a cough, and then goes yellow lemon again.

‘How’s my Chinese?’

‘So so,’ Aubrey says.

Alvin drops his head and mutters in Chinese.

‘There, listen, what’s he saying?’

Aubrey cranes her head, squinting. ‘That’s Arabic,’ she says, ‘or at least something similar.’

‘That’s not Mandarin?’


‘You’re sure?’



Aubrey reaches out and plucks a cigarette from my packet. She gestures for the lighter.

‘You’re shaking,’ I say.

‘I just told Charlie I’ll be late home.’

‘How’d he take it?’

‘Oh,’ she says, fighting to get the lighter to strike, ‘fine. I don’t think he heard me crying.’

‘That’s … good?

When she’s got the cigarette lit, she says, ‘You see Alvin, in English, on that plaque?’

‘That’s the guy’s name,’ I say.

‘And I see shénmì, in hànzì.’


‘Chinese characters.’


Aubrey holds her smoking cigarette in front of a face of radical concentration. ‘How’s that possible? Two different projections.’

I blow smoke across to Alvin and ask him, ‘How’s that possible?’

But all Alvin does is waft the cloud into his gills and trill. The interrogation room’s polished marble walls reflect his pink shimmer. I write down PINK = AMUSEMENT? in my pocketbook.

Mystery and Alvin,’ she says to me, ‘why those two?’

‘Wanna bet an Arabic translator sees something different?’

She crosses her legs, flicks the ash from her cigarette. ‘I’m not a gambler.’

‘But you work for the BDA.’

‘Never thought of it as a gamble.’

Shoulda, is all I think.

‘Are you sure he isn’t telepathic?’ Aubrey says. ‘Like, he can read our minds and make us see and hear things?’

‘How do you test for that?’

‘I’m a field operator, not a scientist.’

And I’m a what? A failed physicist turned BDA agent? ‘No one’s qualified. Not really.’

‘Maybe all this is a BDA simulation,’ Aubrey says, ‘a first contact protocol test.’

We wish.

‘Yeah, maybe they want to see how we’d behave if we knew we were dead.’

Aubrey, who, it must be said, is doing everything in her power to keep herself from crying, bites her lip and goes, ‘I wish this were a simulation.’

I smile.

Alvin sways left to right on his seat, the chains around his wrists clinking. He’s either not here, mentally, or he’s fucking with us. I look him in his eyes, the shiny plaque above them. A simulation? The last time the BDA surprised me with a simulation, it took me all of two seconds to work it out. We’re good, but not this good. This is real. ‘Yeah,’ I say, trying as hard as she is to not think about my impending death. ‘We’re here, he’s here.’

‘What does a goddamn alien want with a nuclear power plant?’ Aubrey says.

‘Fuel?’ I offer. ‘For its ship?’

She shrugs.

‘He’s crashed landed,’ I say, thinking out loud, ‘and needs to get back home. So he tries to break into a nuclear power plant, make a go at it for the fuel cells. The enriched uranium cores.’

‘Yeah,’ Aubrey says, ‘but BDA found him.’

‘Well,’ I remind her easy, ‘that group of stoner teens found him first.’ These kids get high, drop acid, and play boom-bap in front of the power station, sez it gives ‘em good vibes. They thought they were all tripping fierce seeing an extra-terrestrial running round the place: ‘Donnie’s tipped the roaches in acid again, man.’

‘BDA found him nevertheless,’ Aubrey says, working her long hair into a scrunchy. She’s pale, a powder covers red radiation burns.

Alvin’s looking mighty nothing.

‘He’s got to want something, right?’ I say, leaning in now. There might be more of him ready to descend on the Earth. Plaque-heads in neon saucers -- or miniaturised in one of those radioactive spheres -- their guns akimbo: laser turrets, photon torpedoes, supersonic depth charges all brimming, about to explode.

‘He doesn’t have to want anything,’ Aubrey sez.

My cigarette making like an eleventh finger, I point at Alvin, saying, ‘That your plan? You want us to think we’ve got no hope of comprehending it? Then --’ furiously jabbing now -- ‘then you go and blast us to ash?’ I crush the cigarette out in the graveyard of its pack-mates. Aubrey does the same, but as she does, she stands and backs away from the table.

I say to her, ‘What’re you doing?’ and all she does is stare at me funny, like I’ve got ALVIN bolted to my forehead. ‘Take it easy, you’ll startle the extra-terrestrial.’

Lower lip quivering, newly bunched ponytail a-swaying, Aubrey Chen sez: ‘, 如此!’ and lowers her head.

‘Is what so?’

‘I’m gonna die, Syd.’

‘Hey hey,’ I say, getting all the warmth and calmness I can into my voice, ‘we’re both gonna die.’

She holds tight to her tummy and starts dry heaving.

I hug her tight.

We’ve been at this nearly a decade. I always loved her, but could never say it. Until I did. It didn’t help that I was married, with a kid, and she was so in love with Charlie it made me sick.

I hold her tight, and she cries into my shoulder.

‘You don’t know,’ I tell her, ‘Doc might have something.’

But we both know she won’t and are grateful when there’s another knock on the door and in walks Hazmat, metal bucket in hand. Aubrey breaks free from me and vomits into the bucket. Hazmat lingers, vomit bucket still in hand, looks to be thinking of something kind to say, fails to find anything, and heads back out.

Aubrey wipes her mouth on the long, black sleeve of her frilly shirt. Radiation- or emotion-induced sickness I do not know.

In the mirror behind Alvin, beyond which my superiors watch on in fascination, my reflection mouths to me: Good luck, kid and vanishes.

I sit back down and spend a cigarette’s worth of time wondering if Alvin made it do that or if it’s just imagery -- a metaphor, a foreshadow for doom, and if Aubrey is gonna rally. When the cigarette’s done, I’m still undecided on all of it.

How long before we’re both cooked from the inside?

‘You got a cure for these rads, buddy?’ I ask Alvin.

Alvin lifts his arms, and the chains about his wrists go tight.

‘We really got you locked up? Or you want us to believe we’ve got you locked up?’

‘I’m fine,’ Aubrey says, mostly to herself, and sits back down to begin a search for a fresh cigarette. ‘Good god, there’s vomit in my teeth.’

We go back and forth with Alvin for hours. His colours change rarely and my pocketbook stays empty.

After a while I go, ‘You hungry? I’m hungry.’

I make the want food signal and drag Hazmat back in. Tray in hand, he skirts around Alvin, places the tray down -- a jug of water, two cups, and a pair of rye-bread sandwiches of lettuce and mustard. You kidding? That’s it for my last meal? And before I can offer proper protest, Hazmat goes back out the door.

Aubrey likes mustard and wastes no time eating her sandwich.

Not a wristwatch in sight, my body clock tells me it’s too late, the rads are through the blood-brain barrier, and my mind flashes up a regret-inspired kaleidoscopicscape of the school drop-offs and pick-ups I missed, the forgotten good morning, I love yous, the birthday parties, the parent-teacher conferences I ducked to go work with Aubrey. The kid’s whole god damn life I skipped ‘cause I never loved his mum.

My half-eaten rye goes back on the plate. Alvin looks at it, turns orange. What the hell’s in mustard?

‘A thousand lightyears from your nearest eatery?’ I suggest.

I light up, blow smoke, think that maybe I ought to phone home myself -- whatever that is.

The orange fades -- ORANGE = HUNGRY? finds a line in my pocketbook -- and Alvin inclines his head so the ceiling lights gleam on the gold plaque, which, by the way, reads, Alvin mystery good-luck.

The cigarette falls from my lips into my lap. Swatting at it like a wasp, ‘Good luck? You extra-terrestrials bored or something?’ Then to Aubrey: ‘You seeing this?’

‘All I see is, 神秘.’

In the pulps, it’s always ESP and telepathy and then there’s voodoo. I think real hard, Give me something, man, or I’m gonna go to the great beyond with less than nada. The Alvin, mystery, good-luck message scrambles, whirls like blood in a flushing toilet, vanishes. All I’ve got is gold.

My reflection hasn’t returned.

‘You’re blank,’ I say, ‘shiny head. Wanna tell me what that means?’ No colour change, no trill, no coughs. He -- she -- it tugs at the cuffs. ‘You want out? All you’ve gotta do is get chatty, man.’ I sit back. ‘Maybe it needs the sphere you found?’

Aubrey’s got a bit of mustard on her lip. A cigarette burns beside it. ‘It’s in lock-up,’ she says. ‘It’s still spewing radiation.’

I go for another cigarette, but the pack’s empty. Everything’s vanishing. Then it occurs to me that our expectations are set way too high, like, it’s an alien, from space, and they want us to talk to it? We think we can talk to it?

A buzzer crackles and the room fills with a voice. ‘You need the device?’

Aubrey wipes the mustard, shoots a gaze at the mirror, and goes, ‘And some more cigarettes,’ waits a beat, adds, ‘and coffee.’

Alvin’s black eyes stare back at me.

‘There’s gotta be something you can do for us?’ I say.

The extra-terrestrial lifts his hands as high as the steel chains let him, then strobes orange, pink, orange, pink….

The lines in my pocketbook explain: PINK = AMUSEMENT, ORANGE = HUNGRY. Pink, orange, pink, orange.

Hungry for amusement?

Patterns: swirls: blobs: stripes: Alvin’s clothes glow all the colours I can perceive. He’s the Neon God I never knew I had.

‘I’m gonna try something.’

I get up, Aubrey, normally quick to reign me back, is still as white cliff. I take the cuff’s key from my pocket, unlock the cuffs, and lay the key down in front of Alvin.

‘There you go, buddy, freedom. How’s that taste?’

Colours flash.

Aubrey’s breathing stops. My breathing stops.

All I see is the moment Aubrey told me she can’t love me. I see the birth of my kid. I see the moment I realised I never loved Emma. 

The chains drop on the table, slide down like a lost anchor, collecting in a pile on the floor.

He’s gone.

My heart beats in my ears.

The door opens: Hazmat enters, cigarettes and coffee on the tray, and he says, ‘Hey, what the fuck?’

Alvin’s left the building.

Aubrey gets up, as quiet as a still night, takes the packet of cigarettes from Hazmat’s silver platter, gets it open, takes one out, pops it in her mouth, lights it, blows smoke, and says, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’

‘Well, how’d it do that?’ Hazmat says.

Rubbing my face, thinking about all those missed dinners, the shouts and the arguments, the divorce, I say, ‘I have no idea, but it’s cost us everything.’

‘Everything,’ Aubrey says. ‘All of it.’



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