A soft pinging sound came from the console accompanied by a blinking orange light from the proximity sensor. Commander Etic Koltz peered out of a half-closed eye as he sat reclined in his seat. It took him a few moments to understand what the sound and light meant but once it seeped into his sleep addled mind he shot upright, hands deftly flying across the board of instruments.
“Tenn, wake up,” he said, eyes fixed on the sensor readouts. At his right, slumped in the co-pilot chair, was his First Officer who didn’t even stir. Not missing a step as his fingers tapped away at a keyboard he shot out a hand, flicking Tenn’s face hard enough to rouse him. “First Officer Tenn, see to your station,” he said loudly.
Jabi Tenn woke with a snort, a gasp and a look of confusion. His eight eyes blinked in quick succession, removing the glaze of sleep as he straightened himself out. “Sorry Commander. Have we arrived?”
“Indeed we have. Landing sequence is initialised, prepare for atmospheric entry.”
Dennis Taylor perused his field, taking one last look at it in the setting sun before joining his wife for dinner. Tomorrow was going to be a good day, or so the weatherman said, and Dennis was planning how to go about cultivating the field. Things had been going well for the farm and it was about time the area was put to use. Fists on his hips, he smiled at the prospect of a good day’s hard work before turning around to make his way back to the farmhouse.
Within three steps he heard a whining, followed by bright lights in the sky illuminating the field in a wash of white. Dennis turned around, holding his cap with one hand as a breeze picked up. He peered skywards, squinting against the brightness. Although indistinct behind the glaring light he could make out a strange conical shape descending point first. As it neared the ground four mechanical arms emerged from the middle of the cone and appeared to feel around for good purchase before settling on the muddy field, followed by an engine blast that righted the shape. With the ship’s landing lights fading there came a warm glow as its door opened. Seconds later a silhouette came into view, an odd shape that the human eye had trouble following amid the glare. It descended a newly formed ramp, each step accompanied by a peculiar clicking sound. Stopping once it reached the bottom the visitor looked around, surveying the area.
Standing a good seven to eight feet tall the entity had a domed head ringed with eight eyes, four spindly arms with three joints each ending in slender, four-fingered hands, and two insectival legs that tapered to what can only be described as a sharp hoof. The creature focused on the farmer and smiled it’s lipless mouth.
“Good eve to you, I am Commander Etic Koltz,” spoke the creature in flawless English with a beautific expression on its face. Dennis Taylor stood in the wash of light, one hand still holding onto his cap. There was silence, save for the powering down stutter-whine of the ship’s engines.
“Whaddya want?” Dennis said.
Commander Koltz’s expression faltered momentarily at the strange greeting. He’d heard many things about humans, that they were inquisitive, thirsty for knowledge and some of the most open-minded creatures in the galaxy. None of this had prepared him for such a surly and blasé welcome. Two eyes flicked to the side to see First Officer Tenn’s reaction. It felt like looking into a mirror. A very confused mirror. Clearing his throat, Commander Koltz addressed Dennis.
“We are Explorers from beyond your solar system, we have travelled across half the galaxy to be here.”
“So?” Dennis said as he withdrew a pack of cigarettes, pulled out an especially crumpled one and lit it, all the while never taking his disparaging eyes off the two.
“What? What do you mean ‘so’?” blurted Tenn in disbelief. Commander Koltz raised a slender hand to his subordinate in a gesture of calm and fixed Dennis with a less welcoming smile.
“Do you not understand human? We are not of your planet, we are what your kind call aliens.”
“Ah-huh, what of it?”
Koltz stared intently at the man, not quite sure how to continue the encounter. Although officially he was meant to be above the sort of thing he could not help thinking that this life form was surely dim-witted and incapable of understanding what it was being presented with. Steeling himself for further annoyance he tried again. “Please, listen to what I say and comprehend. We are members of an intergalactic consortium consisting of hundreds of different races that exist peacefully together, sharing technology and aid. My colleague and I are designated Explorers tasked with searching the unmapped and lesser known areas of space. We are here, from out there, to give you the most important knowledge your kind has ever known.”
“Yeah? Wassat?” Dennis said between puffs of smoke. Koltz’s eyes narrowed in frustration at the simpleton but kept his cool.
“That you, as a species, are not alone,” he said through gritted teeth. Finally Dennis seemed to understand as he fell silent and looked at his feet. Spitting vulgarly, his cigarette butt fell into the mud and he stamped it down. Looking up at the Commander he sported a grin that could only be described as confrontational. Koltz clenched all four of his hands into fists, waiting for the man’s reaction.
“So?” he said, eyebrows raised and grin fully formed. Koltz couldn’t take it any more, flying into a rage he began flailing his hands about in frustration and cursing at Dennis in a myriad of alien tongues as First Officer Tenn tried his best to calm his superior whilst appearing to stay composed in front of the human. Shoving Tenn out of his way, Koltz marched forward, his sharpened feet-hooves sinking into the mud as he made his way to Dennis who didn’t give an inch, instead choosing that moment to rumage around for another smoke. By the time Koltz had reached him he had already taken a few drags and was stood as nonchalantly as one can in a pair of galoshes. The Commander’s black eyes were mere inches from Dennis’ face.
“What is wrong with you human? How do you not grasp the enormity of what is happening?” Koltz yelled, not hearing the weak pleas from Jabi Tenn for calm. Dennis grinned wider still and blew out a lungful of sickly smelling smoke. “Argh! You piece of slime,” bellowed Koltz as he grabbed the front of Dennis’ jacket.
“What in the world is all this ruckus?” came a soothing voice unmistakeably educated in the art of mollification. All three turned to the newcomer, Dennis’ face unchanged, the others squinting into the increasing darkness. Trudging slowly through the muddied field came a middle-aged woman in a worn quilted pink coat wrapped tightly at the waist. With an air of mild frustration the woman looked at the two strange creatures and Dennis in silence. No one moved.
“Could you please let go of my husband?” she said matter-of-factly. Koltz snapped out of his furore, let go of Dennis and straightened himself up to his full height.
“Ha, thass right, get yer ‘ands offa me,” growled Dennis, still smiling.
“Den? Shut up, you’ve caused enough disruption for one night,” said the little woman with the commanding presence.
“Wha…what’s going on?” Koltz said in utter confusion. The woman in the pink coat looked to him, her eyes quickly filling with compassion.
“Good evening to you, I’m Margaret. I think you’d better come inside,” she said before turning around and walking back to warm glow of the farmhouse.
Minutes later the two Explorers found themselves sat at an old, sturdy oak table adorned with doilies, two vases overflowing with assorted flowers and a tea set steaming with a freshly brewed batch. Koltz tried to sit up straight but found his lanky frame difficult to fit into the seat. Tenn on the other hand had found comfort in slouching slightly, holding onto the underside of the table with one pair of hands and folding the others in front of him. Koltz eyed his friend, thinking him uncouth until after a few seconds of trying to keep his posture the pain became too much and he decided to copy the more informal approach.
With a plate of selected biscuits and cheese, Margaret sat across from the two Explorers, poured out two cupfuls of tea that she pushed to them and laced her fingers around her own. A warm smile spread across her face as she looked from one to the other. “I’m guessing this is all a bit of a shock to you?” she said.
Jabi looked up from his cup as he took an investigative sip of the curious liquid, three eyes turned to his superior. “Isn’t that what we say?” he whispered out of the corner of his mouth. Koltz flapped a hand at him to be quiet.
“Mrs. Margaret, we are-,” he began.
“Please, just call me Marge,” she said, kindly as ever.
“Very well. Marge, as I tried to explain to your husband, we are intergalactic Explorers from over half a galaxy away and have decided to reveal ourselves to you as a species, to let you know you are not alone. Beyond your solar system lies a vast society of sentient creatures living together in peace, devoted to the betterment of all,” Koltz said. His face had an expression of earnest not normally seen on a member of his kind as he begged whatever deity may exist that this human would be more understanding.
“How wonderful,” Marge said in between sips of tea. Koltz narrowed his eyes again, annoyed that he was still not getting the reaction he was hoping. His will had finally caved, he needed an answer.
“Could you please tell me something?” he said in exasperation. Marge nodded slightly, cup held to her lips. “Why do you and your husband seem so…unfazed?”
“By what? By us! We’re aliens, how is our being here not an event worthy of note?” Koltz said, more forcefully than he had wished.
“Oh!” she cried out in sudden realisation, “Oh that. I’m so sorry, you must think me a fool.”
“Not at all, we’re just curious,” Tenn said before returning to slurping the liquid which he was enjoying thoroughly. Marge smiled at him with motherly love.
“I guess I should have mentioned this earlier. You two aren’t the first ‘visitors’ we’ve received.”
“Really? There have been others who landed?” Koltz asked in disbelief. Surely it would have been noted in the Exploration Database if anyone had visited the system.
“Oh yes. Not all over the planet mind, no. Always in that field,” she said with a slight head jerk out the window at their ship.
“This is, it’s just, how?” Koltz stammered.
“Not the slightest idea I’m afraid. It’s been going on for, well, must be twenty-odd years now. Floating lights in the sky, strange melodies echoing across the moors, mysterious occurrences ultimately ending in an alien being found in the shed, we’ve had it all,” Marge said as she poured more tea into her cup and offered to refill Tenn’s. His eyes lit up with glee as he gave her his cup. “It’s why Dennis has become so antagonistic these past few years. He’s fed up to the eye-teeth with it all.”
“Why?” Tenn said as he finished the refilled cup and looked longingly at the kettle for more.
“Well, because he can’t use the field for crops. Every time one of you turns up the ship makes a huge mess of the field, even more so when taking-off. It got to the point where the whole thing was just a wasteland of charred grass and mud. After the seventh or eight time the novelty of meeting extraterrestrials wasn’t enough to overcome his aggravation of having useless land.” Marge stopped to refill her cup but found the pot empty, she put it back with a smile and grabbed a biscuit instead. “We’ve been left alone for a while now, almost six months in fact. Dennis was out there inspecting it before you turned up, he thought it was about ready for cultivation. Guess that’s why he was more than a bit hostile.”
Commander Koltz turned to the surly man in a cap who was leant against the door and said, “I am dreadfully sorry sir, I did not know.”
“Uh-huh,” he grumbled.
“I assure you it will not happen again, I will make it my first order of business once we return home,” Koltz exclaimed, trying to hide his utter embarrassment and anger at such a blatant disrespect for the rules that these previous ‘visitors’ showed.
“Sure,” said Dennis followed by a grunt as he turned around and exited the farmhouse. Koltz watched him leave before turning back to Marge, his eyes filled with remorse.
“I mean it, I truly am sorry.”
“Oh I know that, so does he. Pay him no mind,” Marge said. She stood up, went to the kitchen counter and began boiling a fresh pot. “Would you like some more?” she said to Tenn with a raised eyebrow.
“If it’s not too much of an imposition,” he replied, the eagerness in his eyes betraying his attempted polite reservedness. Marge cracked a knowing smile as she went about preparing a new potful.
“I must say I’m sorry myself, the two of you travelled so far only to be greeted by that sourpuss of a husband of mine,” she said, not turning from her duties.
“It’s fine, really,” started Koltz before deciding to be honest instead of polite, “it’s just, we had heard such great things from other Explorers about the welcomes they have received on other planets. I know I should not yearn for such things but I must confess to looking forward to it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this has been wonderful…”
“It’s just not what you were expecting. As I said, don’t worry yourself about it. I can only imagine how you feel,” Marge said as she sat back down with a fresh pot, and replaced Tenn’s dainty cup with a considerably larger mug. Tenn’s eyes bulged upon seeing the new container and he joyously and greedily slurped up almost half its contents before wincing at the heat.
As always Marge sported a warm smile whilst she watched the alien enjoy her tea. When she turned to the despondent Commander there was a glint of quizzical mischievousness in her eyes. “You know, there is one way this could work out for the better.”
“Oh?” Koltz said, perking up slightly.
“Oldberry. It’s the nearest town to us, and although they’re aware of aliens existing, they’re supremely jealous that we get all the ‘visitors’ and they get none. It may not be the exact reception you’re looking for but it will certainly be a joyous one, no doubt full of celebration.”
She let the idea sink in for a moment as she dunked and ate a particularly large biscuit. Koltz stared at the table, mulling over what he had been told. “You are sure?” he said. Marge nodded. “Will anyone blow smoke in my face?”
“Lord no, only Dennis is mean-spirited enough to do that.”
To this his face lit up. With some fumbling he managed to free himself from his chair, stood up tall and bowed. “Thank you dearest Marge, you have been most kind but we must be on our way,” he said in as formal a tone as he could muster.
“Of course, I wouldn’t want to keep you,” she said, rising to her feet. “Before you go though, here’s a little something to make the trip back home a more pleasant one.” Marge stretched up onto the tips of her toes and reached into the back of a cupboard, pulling out two different coloured boxes. Twisting her hands around to look at the labels, she nodded to herself, walked over to the Explorers and handed the boxes to Tenn. “Boiling water, little bit of sugar, let it brew for a few minutes then add milk,” she told him. He looked at them, peeked inside and realised what she meant.
“First Officer, we are leaving,” Koltz said as he approached the door, eager to be on his way to Oldberry. Jabi Tenn looked to his superior, down at his present then to Marge. Without warning he scooped her up with all four arms and hugged her close before running out the door.