(Copyright ©2017 by Alyce Rita Campbell All Rights Reserved. This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.)
It was dark, no moon, and the inky sky was swollen with stars. Amelia Largo bounced easily along the gravel road until a circle of bright lights hovering above the cottonwood caused her to step on the brakes. Then her engine stalled. She tried the ignition but the clink-clink-clink told her that apparently the battery was dead. She sighed and climbed out of the pickup to check out the lights. It was the fourth time this month, and she was getting tired of bumping into the failed experiments of the crazy astro-engineers and fly-boys from Area 51.
Suddenly the lights flickered then grew even brighter and she saw what looked like a golf cart trundling towards her. The vehicle came to a halt about a yard away and its driver pointed a square object at her. She fell to the ground immobilized by an electric shock and then the sky disappeared.
When she woke up, she was sitting on a gray toadstool-shaped chair, facing a large gray toadstool-shaped desk. She didn’t sense any restraints but when she tried to stand her legs wouldn’t respond. Her left ear ached so she raised her hand to her lobe and felt a metallic ring about the size of a dime.
A gray-clad creature about her height shuffled in through a sliding door and sat adown cross from her. The creature exuded the smell of garlic. He stared at her with large black eyes that had no pupils. After a few minutes of staring back, she decided he was wearing an envirosuit with eye protection very much like swimmers’ goggles.
She clamped her mouth shut, forcing her capture to make his first move. The creature made whistling and chirping sounds that revealed the purpose of the metal earring: it was a translator.
The translator wasn’t perfect. There were a few seconds of time delay between a string of chirps and trills and the computer-generated semi-comprehensible English phrases.
The creature said, “I Kwatt, top boss of this scout UFO. Taking over you a must regrettable.”
Amelia thought that the translator program needed some serious training.
“I am Amelia.”
“Amelia…your land boat regrettable.”
Amelia guessed that the creature was apologizing for stopping her truck.
“Okay, apology accepted. Kwatt, why are you here?”
“Planet rich in you call oxidane. We want.”
Amelia rummaged through the fragments of her college chemistry class. “You mean water. You want to buy water.”
A short pause then, “Ha, ha joke. We give good things for oxidane? No…I send tweet, many ships come, clean up rocky orb, take.”
Another pause. “One rule. We no take from orbs with smart life. Find leader, we must and test.”
Amelia paled. “Clean up” could only mean that dreadful things would happen, like extermination. She thought to herself that as sheriff of the county she could justify claiming to be the leader.
“That’s kind of you. We smart life need water too. And you’re in luck. I’m the leader around here. What is your test?”
“Three puzzles. If you solve we go different place. Maybe little orb near big gas orb. But much harder to take. No dry place. Cold.”
“Ah…Enceladus. Moon of Saturn.”
“Said I that.”
Amelia hoped that alien and human thinking were similar or the puzzles would be hopelessly difficult.
“First puzzle: It always 1 to 6, it always 15 to 20; it always 5. Only 21 if flying.”
“Kind of long. Can I write it down?”
“No but I can repeat,” and the creature did.
Now Amelia listened carefully and thought about all things with odds. She thought of Las Vegas. Then it hit her.
“You mean a dice, a six-sided object for playing.”
“Ha, ha, joke…yes…long journey in scout UFO. We play games.” His garlic smell intensified.
Amelia forced out a small chuckle, wondering what they gambled with and for.
“Second puzzle: On scout UFO, we have fierce WockerJabber in cage which grows double each earth rotation, if we feed it lots. If creature is fed lots, in ten rotations it fills cage. How many rotations to fill ¼ and ½ cage?”
Amelia mentally grimaced. She had always hated logic puzzles in her math classes. She started by thinking backwards from ten days. It must be half sized at 9 days so it would be quarter size on the 8th day.
She smiled and said, “Half at 9, quarter at 8.”
The creature said, “Ha, ha, ha so you can do arithmetic. Now third puzzle.” He waved his hand to show three doors in three shades of gray.
“Door one go to engine. We toss you in, you fry. Door two go to oxidane tank. We toss you in, you drown. Door three go to WockerJabber not fed many rotations. We toss you in, you WockerJabber food. Choose door.”
Amelia thought that this was it, her loss was humankind’s loss. But with door three she might be able fend off the creature or…another thought crossed her mind.
“Door three…I choose door three.”
The creature’s chirps and trills came fast and furious and the garlic stench became almost intolerable. The translator delivered a string of words that included many darns and damnations.
The creature opened door three, and showed what Amelia had expected: a tiny alien animaloid that looked half-dead and cowered in the corner.
“Smarty pants leader. You go now. We go now.”
Within a minute Amelia found herself lying on the ground beside her truck. As she stood and dusted herself off the circle of lights rose vertically until it was lost among the billions of stars in the inky sky.