That was the day that they finally got him.
Both wore standard black business suits and ties like the Secret Service, although the woman with the long, black hair was a bit too top-heavy for the outfit, so that Paul wondered how long it would be before the buttons of her shirt popped. She was eye-catching, especially in profile. Paul could tell she was looking at him sideways, like she was trying not to turn her head and be blatant about it. The man wore dark sunglasses and was seated so that he faced Paul directly; he hadn’t turned his head once since Paul first noticed the pair.
“They’re looking at me,” Paul whispered.
He hunched down in their corner booth at Fridays, while Mitch and Holly looked over their shoulders. He wished they wouldn’t be so obvious, but then he had deliberately chosen to sit with his back in the corner, because he didn’t like the idea of people sneaking up on him. He could see everyone in the restaurant, but Mitch and Holly had their backs to most of the place.
“Okay, I give; who is?” asked Mitch.
“By the door,” Paul said. “The couple in the suits.”
Mitch and Holly looked where the odd pair sat. Holly pointed at them.
“You mean those two?” Holly asked.
There were no other couples in suits by the door, so it should have been apparent who Paul meant. Why didn’t people ever take him seriously? Ten years in marketing, selling people on ideas they’d never believe on their own; you’d think he’d be able to convince people that someone was after him.
“Don’t point! You’ll draw their attention,” Paul said.
“I thought they were already looking at you. Maybe we should look back,” Mitch said.
He directed his gaze at the woman.
“Don’t stare at her, or you’ll go blind,” Holly teased.
Mitch put his arm around Holly’s shoulders and gave her a squeeze.
“You don’t need to worry about that with me – I’m already blinded by love,” Mitch said.
Holly rolled her eyes, but she snuggled in closer to Mitch all the same. The two of them were so sickeningly sweet; sometimes it made Paul glad he didn’t have their problem, but he still hadn’t completely sold himself on single being an advantage.
“Speaking of blind, I think Agent Smith might be. Why else the sunglasses?” Holly asked.
“So he can watch me without being obvious,” Paul said.
“I’m not seeing where this is a problem. If the babe’s interested in you, you ought to give her a chance,” Mitch said.
Holly pinched his arm.
“Ouch! I’m just looking out for our buddy here. He needs a girlfriend and she’s…” Mitch stumbled for a less hazardous adjective, “…adequate.”
“Don’t be stupid – that’s not what’s going on here. They’re together,” Paul said.
“They’re sitting at the same table, but they’re not a couple; they’re more like co-workers,” Holly said.
“That doesn’t make me feel better about them watching me. They’re on a mission and I’m their target,” Paul said. “Probably the NSA or the CIA trying to shut me up about the aliens.”
“That again? Paul, no one’s out to get you,” Holly said.
“But if she is, I would just go with it,” Mitch said.
Holly pinched his arm again.
“Ouch! I meant he should go with it,” Mitch said.
“I know exactly what you meant,” Holly said, then checked her phone. “It’s quarter of ten. The sitter’s going to be pissed if we’re late again.”
Mitch pulled out his wallet and set a pair of twenties on the table.
“That should cover us,” he said.
“Don’t leave yet,” Paul said, and reached for Holly’s hand.
“Have to – we’re expected,” Holly said.
“Besides, we’re cramping your style. She might even think that you and Holly are more than co-workers,” Mitch said.
“Later,” Holly said, and gave his hand a squeeze before she let go.
Paul watched Holly and Mitch head out the door. The suited couple didn’t look their way as they passed, just kept watching Paul. The guy in the sunglasses still hadn’t reacted to anyone – he just kept staring straight ahead. Maybe he really was blind, and that “babe” was just waiting around for a chance to have Paul all to herself. Sure she was; no one who looked as hot as she did was going to be interested in him for recreational purposes. No, they were a team, and he didn’t want to give them anymore opportunity to watch him than they’d already had.
The waitress finally brought the check, but she walked off before Paul could get his card out of his wallet. He only had five minutes to make his bus. He didn’t have any cash on him, and he considered just leaving what Mitch and Holly had dropped on the table, but it wasn’t quite enough, and they’d think he was skipping out. He saw the waitress on the computer at the server station, so he took the check and his card to her and stood there, stealing quick glances at the couple watching him while she ran his card, and then he made a beeline for the door.
He got outside just in time to see his bus disappear around the corner. Great – there wouldn’t be another one for twenty minutes. Then he noticed that the suits had come outside, too, and were standing by the door – Glasses and the Babe were staring directly at him. He didn’t think they’d leave him alone for twenty minutes, so he started walking as fast as he could without running.
They followed. Well, that’d teach Holly and Mitch to treat him like he was paranoid; if he lived to tell about it. They did the same thing when he told them about the silent lights in the sky that followed him when he drove home a couple of days ago. And the whispered voices on his balcony last night. Tonight he’d taken the bus to make sure no one was following him, but now he wished he had his car.
He looked over his shoulder; they didn’t seem like they were walking as fast has he was, but each time Paul looked back they seemed to be a little closer. He gave up trying to seem calm – because he wasn’t, and they probably knew it by now. He ran.
He turned the corner and ducked into the next alley before they made it around the block.
Would it be too cliché for Paul to find himself in a dead-end? Apparently not, because there he was, staring at a solid brick wall, without even the dignity of a rickety chain-link fence to scramble over. He tried a couple of doors, but they were locked, and then two silhouettes cast shadows from the street. Paul remembered how you should never go anywhere that an abductor wants to take you. Well, he had put himself so out of sight of any help, he might as well have climbed into their trunk and pulled it closed for them.
He backed up to the wall and waited as the two sauntered toward him. Well, not sauntered really – they held themselves stiffly, and as they got closer Paul realized he hadn’t heard any footsteps the whole time; he wasn’t sure if they were walking or gliding. They stopped ten feet away from him before anyone broke the silence.
“Mr. Phelps, my associate and I – or is it me? The rules about that have never been completely clear to me,” the woman said.
“Me thinks it is I, Ms. Babe,” the man said.
“Thank you, Mr. Agent Smith – we will go with that,” Ms. Babe said.
“Us will,” Mr. Agent Smith corrected her.
“My associate and I would like to exchange words with you,” Ms. Babe said.
Their banter was so inane, it put Paul off his guard a little.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” he asked.
“How do you know that?” Smith asked.
“You’re not comfortable with the language, for one thing,” Paul said.
“Me was afraid that would make us stick out,” Smith said.
“That is one of the reasons we need him,” Babe said.
“So where are you from – Russia?” Paul asked.
“Do you think us could pass as Russian? Smith asked.
“Maybe,” Paul said.
“That would not be so bad – at least they would think us are from Earth,” Smith said.
“Aren’t you?” Paul asked.
“You talk too much, Mr. Agent Smith,” Babe said.
“We are sorry that we have not regulated that yet,” Smith said.
Paul studied the two of them as they argued and realized that their feet really weren’t touching the pavement at all – they just sort of hung there an inch or two in the air. Anti-gravity, like in the movies? And they definitely had an otherworldly look to them – at least Babe did. No one on Earth looked that good.
“You really are aliens,” Paul said.
“Yes, of course us be,” Smith said.
“I knew it! I knew you were real!” Paul said.
Finally! Now everyone would believe him – he had the proof right here, and all he had to do was show the world. Unless…
“Are you going to abduct me?” Paul asked.
“Abduct? Oh no, Mr. Phelps. There are laws about that,” Smith said.
“Us want people to want to enter our ship,” Babe said.
“Heck, I’d follow you anywhere,” Paul said, and then felt stupid.
“You seem to be fascinated by these chests,” Babe said.
“They are not real the way you are thinking,” Smith said. “Just a marketing device to distract you from the reality of what we are,” Smith said.
“They’re definitely distracting,” Paul said.
“Us saw them in your ‘hot-rod’ advertisement,” Babe said.
“Me do not know why I could not have some,” Smith said.
“They wouldn’t look right on you. There’s unreal, and then there’s too unreal. On her, they’re perfection,” Paul said.
Smith seemed annoyed, but Babe was pleased.
“Then me was right to grow them,” Babe said.
“You can -?” Paul began, then decided it best he not go there if he wanted to preserve what sanity he had. “Where did you get those names? I know they’re not real.”
“Your males kept calling me Babe,” Babe said.
“Well, you are –” Paul said, and had to pull his eyes away from her chest again. He was past caring whether they were real or not.
“And they called me Agent Smith,” Smith said.
“That’s because normal people don’t wear sunglasses indoors or in the dark. You should take them off,” Paul said.
“Me don’t think that will work,” Smith said.
“Show it him,” Babe said.
Smith took his shades off. His eyes were slits, like a cat or a dragon, with bright orange fire in the pupils.
“OK, put the shades back on – people will think you’re just trying to be cool,” Paul said.
“Me am allergic to the contacts,” Smith said. “Us cannot have your people know we be aliens yet.”
“No one thinks aliens are real, believe me. But they might rethink that if they see your eyes,” Paul said. “So, what is it you want from me?”
“Us wish to purchase some marketing advise,” Smith said.
“From a human who will not be believed if he says us be aliens,” Babe said.
“Then I’m your man. People already think I’m in need of analysis,” Paul said.
“Yes – they might want to study you under a microscope if you talk about us,” Smith said.
“I thought that was something your people did,” Paul said.
“Our people, your people – what does it matter?” Smith said.
“Us would not do that. What is your fee?” Babe asked.
Paul looked at her, and all sorts of possibilities occurred to him – none of which were going to help improve his grip on reality. Reality. Maybe there was something else.
“When will you be ready to expose yourself to the public?” Paul asked, and then felt his ears go hot when he realized how that sounded. “Sorry, no pun intended.”
“What is a pun?” Babe asked.
“It means –” Paul began, but decided the explanation would be too difficult, and rather pointless. “Will you be ready to reveal yourselves to the people of Earth in my lifetime?”
“If you will be still alive in two years,” Smith said.
Paul wasn’t sure if Smith meant for that to sound as menacing as it did.
“If I’m not, then it won’t matter what people think of me. If I am, I get first world rights to promote you once you decide to go public,” Paul said.
“Your fee is to advertise we for free?” Babe asked.
“I want to be the one to prove that I’m not crazy and that you exist,” Paul said.
“That does not seem quite fair for you,” Babe said.
“Oh, very well – you will pretend to be my girlfriend until then,” Paul said.
He might as well get as much as he could out of the deal. Once they decided to come out, then everyone would know he’d been right. And until then, it would at least drive Mitch crazy. And Holly too, for that matter.
“I do not understand,” Babe said.
“Us should begin the transaction before he understands how we be robbing him,” Smith said. “Us have been assigned to colonize planet Hell-7.”
“Well, with a name like that, no one will want to go there,” Paul said.
“Between you and we, it is not as nice a place as this,” Smith said.
“Let’s call it Eden instead.”
“Why Eden?” Babe asked.
“It’s like when Erik the Red took a rock covered with ice and called it Greenland to attract settlers,” Paul said.
“Maybe we should get this Erik the Red to work for us?” Smith asked.
“He’s not available,” Paul said. “You give the place a name that changes it from a hell hole to perfection.”
“Perfection? Like my chests?” Babe said.
“The same principle,” Paul said. “So, what’s wrong with the planet?”
“The air will not be breathable until it is terraformed,” Smith said. “The colonists will have to build a habitat to live in until then.”
“How long will that take?” Paul asked.
“Four-hundred and seventeen of your earth years,” Smith said.
“Using our years makes it sound like forever. How long does it take Hell-7 – I mean Eden – to orbit its sun?” Paul asked.
“Eighty-six of your years,” Smith said.
“Okay, but if we’re talking Eden’s years, we can say it will be less than five years on Eden,” Paul said. “Until then they will be living in ‘a completely climate-controlled environment’.”
“And your people will like this?” Babe asked.
“We like things that we can be in control of,” Paul said.
“Yes. That is why we began this whole climate change thing,” Smith said.
“What do you mean you started it?” Paul asked.
“Your earth is too desirable a place to live, so we needed to make it seem less so,” Babe said.
“We have been adjusting your data a little,” Smith said. “Your Mr. Gore and his associates have been very pleased with the results.”
“That’s another advertising campaign I wish I’d landed,” Paul said.
“People who truly believe that they have the power to change a planet are perfect for our purposes. It will require much work to remake Hell-7, and us do not want them to give up hope,” Smith said.
“Once enough of your people fear that this planet is doomed, they will be more eager to leave,” Babe said.
“You stand by the gangplank and plenty will want to go,” Paul said.
Babe smiled, and Paul almost thought he saw her blush. Smith looked oddly at the two of them.
“Me thinks that be enough for now,” Smith said. “Us should go to the ship before us are noticed,” Smith said.
“I agree that you and your ship should go away for now, but Babe needs to stay here,” Paul said.
“Me do?” Babe asked.
“That’s the deal, girlfriend – you need to be noticed with me,” Paul said.
“Me do not think it good to leave my Babe alone with you,” Smith said.
“Your Babe? Are you two a thing?” Paul asked.
“No, we be two things,” Smith said.
“Then this should not be an issue for you. Run along now,” Paul said.
He put his hands on Smith’s shoulders, turned him around pretty easily since he was just floating there, and gave him a small push to start him on his way. Smith coasted about twenty feet up the alley before he stopped and turned around. In his hands he now held a device that looked almost comically like a ray gun from an old Marvin the Martian cartoon, but with many more lights and buttons. And more threatening.
“You cannot push me that way,” Smith said.
Paul became concerned that he might have taken things a bit too far.
“I didn’t mean -,” he stammered.
“Remember – she be not really your type,” Smith said, then repeated to Babe “You be not really his type.”
Then Smith held up the device, pointed it toward them and pushed a button. Paul dove for the ground, taking Babe with him as a blinding light surged from the device. He hunched over her, but the light didn’t cause any pain – just faded and was gone, and Smith along with it.
“You did not need to be concerned,” Babe said from underneath Paul. “The mechanism requires closer proximity to a target for transport.”
“That was like a transporter?” Paul asked.
“You told him he should return to the ship,” Babe said.
That’s when Paul realized the position he had put her in in his panic. And how real she felt beneath him.
“Oh. Sorry about that. Are you alright?” Paul asked as he scrambled to his feet.
Babe rose effortlessly.
“Yes. Why would I not be?” Babe asked.
“A stupid question,” Paul said. “You felt more real than I expected.”
“What did you expect?” she asked.
“Well, something less…human?” he said.
“We be not that different from you,” Babe said.
“Really?” Paul asked.
“Well, there be the eyes, of course,” she said.
“I’d like to have a look at those,” he said.
“Very well,” Babe said.
She reached up toward her face, but he took hold of both her wrists and stopped her.
“Not here,” he said, and then tucked his left arm in her right. “We should go back to my place.”
They walked arm in arm toward the street. Well, Paul walked; Babe was still hovering a little.
“You should keep your feet on the ground while we’re out here,” Paul
“I can do that,” Babe said.
She settled to the pavement, and when they continued, he heard the sound of her heels echoing in the alley. Music to his ears.
“Babe, this is going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
You can connect with William Mangieri, see the full list of his works, his writing blog, and links to his current promotions on his WordPress writing page at https://williammangieri.wordpress.com/Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in