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Star Gate

by John Grant

I have always thought that people who claimed to have been abducted by aliens were irrefutably nuts.

That was before something very like it happened to me.

"You're irrefutably nuts," said my good friend Dave Knuckle when I told him what had happened. "Now let me get back to reading this rivetingly good novel (John Grant's The Far- Enough Window, available from all good bookstores and www.bewrite.net, since you ask)."

"You're irrefutably nuts," said my good friend Dave Knuckle's sister, Jean Marie Knuckle, when I told her what had happened to me. "Kindly place your thumb in this mousetrap."

"I'm not that stupid," I told her.

"You're irrefutably nuts," said the guy in the emergency room who was patching up my thumb when I told him what had happened to me. "Who would want to be woken up in the middle of the night and abducted by Britney Spears?"

"I didn't say it was Britney Spears," I protested. "I said it looked a bit like her."

"You'd be better off watching less late-night C-MAX," he muttered cryptically.

As soon as I got home, pausing only to add C-MAX to my cable package, I sat down here at the computer to write up my experiences while they were still fresh and marketable.

Bear with me, dear reader, as I tell you how it all began on a dark and stormy night . . .


It all began on what I think was a dark and stormy night, only I'd had quite a few out of the magnum of Croatian sweet sherry my landlord had left behind after he'd finished unblocking the sink and so I may not be entirely reliable on this score. Anyway, it certainly did begin.

At a guess it was 3am when I awoke, breathless, as if there was a great weight on my chest. I opened my eyes, and saw that there was an unearthly, eldritch blue illumination filling the room, glinting off the curves of my Christina Aguilera Follies du EuroDisney souvenir toothmug, which had fallen from my hand to the floor sometime after I had drained it of sherry.

But that was not what filled my vision.

Instead it was, standing in the center of what would have been a carpet had it not been for the cockroaches, Britney Spears.

"Britney!" I exclaimed, though my tongue like a burst inner tube. "I knew that you were officially classified as passé, but surely there's passé and . . . well . . ."

I waved around me at my room, a gesture somewhat marred by the fact, as I discovered, that I had fallen asleep clutching in my other hand my Stars 'n' Stripes undershorts.

"I am not Britney at all, you naughty boy," said the figure with a nonchalant shrug. "Oops. Just when you think you've got them both in at the same time . . ."

Not that I looked more closely, I could see that this creature indeed was not Britney Spears. For one thing, her flesh was pale green. For another . . .

"Oops, there goes the other."

. . . she didn't punctuate her speech with moronic catchphrases from the Britney Spears Song Archive. Clearly, she was an alien — there was no other conclusion that fit all the facts. But a remarkable humanoid alien . . . at least so far as I could see, which was quite a long way right at the moment.

"Whap-bonk-a-sploot, and in we go. There, I think I'm ready now. I have come here, Alan Smithee, to take you to your leader."

"Er . . ." I said, "Um, don't you think you've got that a bit wr . . .?"

"No." Her forehead wrinkled. "Ram-dam-a-bam-bam, but that's exactly what I was supposed to say. I spent yesterday evening learning it so I'd get it off just pat. Sploink-a-like-wow. I've come to take you to your leader. You know. Alfie. You may have seen him on television. He was ever so good. I thought what he said about Saddam Hussein having developed a new ballistic missile was ever so convincing, even though those silly old fuddy-duddy CIA creeps and the commie pinko faggot weapons inspectors said it was just an empty toothpaste tube."

"Oh," I said. Maybe this was just a dream.

"Whop-lo-figgle-spoon," added the alien. "Alfie's such an intellectual — such a sexy intellectual, if you know what I mean. He says he admires my" — she paused in thought for a moment, searching for the right word — "art. And he's better in the sack than Rummy, even though he does insist on reading passages from Leviticus the whole time. Mind you, anyone's better in the . . . But I digress. I've been told to take you to your leader."

She daintily averted her eyes as I clambered out of bed, negotiated my way to the bathroom where I thought firmly of higher mathematics and skydiving for an essential minute or two, manoeuvred my way into my Stars 'n' Stripes undershorts — even though they'd not so much seen better days as seen better weeks, they were the only pair that didn't run away when I tried to pick them up — and the rest of my clothes, and returned to the bedroom.

"I'm ready," I said breathlessly.

"Whizzo-blat-spung-di-o," concurred the alien.

Outside there was a taxicab waiting. The street was otherwise deserted except for an old guy with a beard who took one look at us and another at the brown paper bag he was carrying.

"Isn't it a long ride from Manhattan to Washington?" I said doubtfully.

"This isn't just an ordinary taxicab," said the alien, opening the door. A forty gigawatt waft of sound pinned my ears to the side of my head. "It's all really alien and cool. You'll see," murmured a telepathic voice inside my head.

Once we were inside and the doors double-padlocked — "I don't know why they make these things so easy to fall out of," muttered the alien — the driver turned the in-car stereo down low enough so that we could listen to Batman telling us to keep our dentures fastened. The driver had green skin as well, so he was obviously another alien.

"Could you please turn it right off?" I begged. "I think it may be something to do with the grapes in Croatia but I've got a really bad headache right now."

There was a prompt click, and blessed silence. As the driver revved the engine I watched, fascinated, as his skin slowly changed color until he looked exactly like a human being. "Thanks. I been stuck in this cab for four hours now," he explained, "and she wouldn't let me stop playing her greatest hits."

"Not my greatest hits!" said the alien crossly. "They just look like mine."

In moments the taxi was airborne, soaring above the streets of Manhattan. With the Empire State Building to the left of us, we rocked in the skies for a moment before streaking off southward.

"Get your m*t*e*f*c*i*g ass outta my way, a*s*o*e!" came a scream from the front seat. An owl turned and bolted. "Verisimilitude," explained the driver in a more normal voice. Anyone hearing that will think this is just a normal taxi, you see."

"Oh," said the alien.

Minutes later we were in the Oval Office. Behind a big rectangular desk sat none other than . . . well, let's just say I recognized a face from the covers of MAD Magazine. He was deep in argument with a rather thin-faced man who was clutching a sheaf of papers.

"Look, Mr President," said this latter, "I agree with you that it's a good idea to say in your Address to the Nation that you're better than Superman . . ."

"Well, why the f*c* are you arguin', then, Ari?"

". . . and I know that Superman goes faster than a speeding bullet . . ." persevered the thin-faced man.


". . . but it's just that I don't think the best way to express this, Mr President, is for you to say you're faster than a speeding dum-dum."

"Well, I do, and I'm God, you hear me? Now get outta here before I ask Sir John Ashcroft to come join us."

"Oh. Right. Yes. Anything you say."

The man fled, leaving a blizzard of discarded papers behind him.

Alfie turned towards us. "Ah, Britney, honey," he said with a grin, "I'm glad to see you've got here safely. No, it's OK, just leave it out. Oops, and that one too. And you must be Smithee?" he added, turning his attention to me. "Come over here and sit down, make yourself comfortable. I'd offer you a pretzel but I'm not allowed any — doctor's orders, you know. I just have one little thing to do and I'll be with you."

He picked up a Mickey Mouse telephone. "I don't care if she is Sister Wendy and was on live television three thousand miles away at the time of the murder," he barked, "fry the bitch!"

Alfie slammed the receiver down and turned back to us, grinning infectiously. "I do so love dealing with appeals for clemency," he said with a chuckle. "Now . . ."

"Pin-waddy-thlup," said the alien.

"What I am about to tell you, Smithee, is a matter of the most profound National Security. You are not to breathe a word of it to any other mortal being, you hear, on pain of . . . well, you heard what I said to Ari about bringin' in Sir John?"

I gulped in terror. Minutes passed before I could speak again, moments during which I realized that now I really would have to wash my Stars 'n' Stripes undershorts. "It's OK to write about it in my Crescent Blues column, though, is it?"

"Oh, sure," said Alfie affably. "Putting it in there's akin to giving it a Double Top Security Code Red Commit Suicide Before Reading security coding. I told Laura she could put it in one of her poetry anthologies, too. Safe as houses. But aside from that . . ."

"I understand."

"Good. Now listen to me . . ."


The tale he told me, dear reader, was a truly incredible one, punctuated as it was by the alien's frequent all-in wrestling matches with her T-shirt which, now that I noticed it, stayed preternaturally wet.

It seems that the US Government has known for centuries that We Are Not Alone in the Universe. I don't mean just that there have been a few stray radio signals from the far side of the Magellanic Clouds, either. The whole place is utterly swarming with intelligent alien civilizations. Everywhere you look. And they just about all have faster-than-light space travel as well. They've been visiting us. Talking with our political leaders. Giving advanced technology to our scientists for the benefit of the entire human species. How else do you think Nike and Reebok worked out how to get those flashing lights into kids' shoes? Do you really think a human being unaided could have invented the valuable No-Holo-MioTM voting paper, whose efficacy was so well demonstrated in randomly selected Florida test areas just a few years back? Could any human mind have designed the S.U.V.?

"Roswell!" I whispered raptly.

"Who's he?"

"Er, nothing, Mr President. Please continue."

Just then another of the many phones on the great desk rang shrilly. Alfie grabbed it up.

"God on Donald Duck!" he snapped.

He listened intently for a few moments. "OK, Tom, increase the security-alert level to yellow. You're quite right. You can tell Colin's an Al-Quaida operative just by looking at him. Better take him out."

"Sorry about that," he said, smashing Donald back into his cradle. "Now, where was I ...?"

Not unnaturally, Alfie explained to me and the alien, who for some reason seemed entirely unperturbed, when faced with all of these alien civilizations, none of whom are Christian and all of whom may possess untapped oil resources, it is the moral duty of the USA to bomb their planets flat. Oh, and it'd be a good idea to give each and every one of any survivors the right to vote for Alfie — that's what democracy is all about.

However, there are logistical difficulties in such a worthy enterprise, not least of them being the fact that — "Heads are gonna roll for this!" — stealth bombers won't fly in the interstellar vacuum and, even if they did, it'd take them about a billion years to reach the nearest alien system.

But the resourcefulness and pluck of loyal freedom-lovers is not so easily thwarted as all that, no sirree, because . . .

Yet another phone rang.

"God on Tweety-Pie. Oh. Right. Well, if Tone's pooped on the carpet after reading the latest opinion polls, Cheri, just rub his nose in it. Byeeee."

. . . because of literature.

"And this is where you come in, Alan. I am a great fan of your novel Lots of Co-Eds in the Shower, which I've had Laura read to me over and over, especially the bits about Junior Rockets. I think you're the man for the job!"

"Oh, wow, like, Mr Prez! Me? I'm so . . . honored! Like, gee! Er, why?"

Well, apparently all of these bigwigs in the upper echelons of the Republican Party's Scientific Research Division — prop. Pat Robertson — were diverted a couple of years ago from their normal task of trying to prove creationism to study the alien civilizations and search for any cultural weak point they might have, any chink in their armor that might be exploited for destabilization purposes. Once destabilized, they could be bombed flat — or "liberated with extreme prejudice", as Alfie put it — at leisure.

And those boffins have just found one!

Uniquely throughout the known universe, the human species has invented fiction. No other advanced technological culture, whatever its array of the creative arts, has ever discovered the notion of making up stories. They have the written word, of course; and most of them have books that are physically very similar to ours — except that, thanks to alien superscience, they have mass-market paperbacks that never fall to bits when you open them fully. But the contents of those books are entirely factual: no novels, no short stories. The same for their movies, which are all documentaries. The extraterrestrial cultures are all mightily confused by our human habit of inventing fictions, which they regard as akin to lying — something almost entirely unknown to them.

The opportunities for we Americans to destabilize their dastardly regimes are obvious. What could be more disconcerting for them than to be exposed to a torrent of novels? By the time, baffled, they'd picked their way through the complete works of Marcel Proust or Fyodor Dostoevsky, trying to sort out fact from fiction, they'd be a culture in complete disarray, tottering, weak, easy pickings for the stealth bombers that would by now have reached them.

"But we have an even worse trick up our sleeves," confirmed Alfie to me. "It's a dirty trick, but then when you're fighting a dirty enemy it's OK to use dirty tricks. At least, that's what God told me. Or I told myself, me being God an' all.

"Have you ever heard," he continued, "of xLibris? Trafford? iUniverse?"

"Yes," I said smartly. "They all refused to publish my groundbreaking literary work Lots of Co-Eds in the Shower. Bastards. If it hadn't been for my being able to strike up a deal direct with LightningSource the book would never have . . ."

"Precisely," said Alfie with an apple-pie grin. "And that was what led Rummy — who's a lot cleverer than he looks, well, he'd have to be, stands to reason — to hatch a Diabolical Plot."


"If bombarding the aliens with zillions of novels published by orthodox publishers could destabilize entire civilizations, bringing them to the verge of collapse, imagine what'd happen if we shipped 'em the entire catalog of xLibris and iUniverse books!"

I was too appalled to speak. My own novel had been turned down by those companies because I'd insisted on using semi- colons, sentences with verbs in them, and SpellCheck. I would have humanitarian concerns about giving certain serial killers more than one of those books, but shipping the entire catalog to . . .?

The alien looked dumbfounded as well. She had an expression on her face much as someone might have in one of her own restaurants searching for, but unable to find, the salmonella in the plateful of food just set in front of them.

"Diabolical," I whispered, "is le mot juste. When do you start?"

"Well, we need a pilot for the faster-than-light spaceship we have just cooked up, the Spirit of Free Enron. We need someone who'll take it to all those distant planets and drop on each of them a multi-megatonne payload of unsold self-published print-on-demand paperbacks. And, with your advanced knowledge of literature, you've been recommended to me as the uniquely suitable candidate."

Oh, Buffy, if you could only see me now, I thought. You'd be sorry you never answered any of those tastefully explicit e-mails I sent via your fansite . . .

"Mr Prez," I said coolly, "you've come to the right man."

For copyright reasons I cannot recount here, dear reader, the full details of my adventures among the starways serving my nation in the way I knew best — the tv movie, starring Bruce Willis as Alan Smithee and Jennifer Lopez as onboard assistant (developed by the scriptwriter from the actuality, unfortunately just my lifesize Buffy the Vampire Slayer Action Figurine, which collapsed from incurable puncture somewhere near Aldebaran), will shortly be screened by late-night C-MAX — but I can assure you that it was really, really exciting.

Looking back on it all, the strangest thing is that it all took place within just a few hours. When those boffins said "faster-than-light" they really meant it, because, thanks to relativistic effects. when I woke up in the bed to which I'd been returned by flying limo after getting home to Earth, it was just the next morning. Indeed, I'd have been tempted to dismiss the entire episode as a dream were it not for the fact that . . .

Yes, as a Highly Top Secret trophy for my service I now proudly have, sitting on my mantelpiece — for want of a garden and a garden pond — a conical-hatted Alfie statuette, showing the great man cunningly disguised in a beard and clutching what I've been assured is a fishing rod. If I had any further doubts about this having been given to me by a grateful nation they'd be dispelled by the stamp on the base, which says Made in Taiwan.

Eat your heart out, Luke Skywalker!

The End