About The Aliens In My Apartment
By Martin Lochman
“Your feline companion is very polite.”
Sestron-Sya-Saratan levitates just above the surface of the kitchen counter, less than a meter away from my cat, Crumbs, who is comfortably perched on top of the microwave. Both are perfectly motionless, and you could almost say that they are locked in a staring competition but Crumbs, of course, isn’t in the least interested in silly human games, and his counterpart doesn’t possess any visual organs. In fact, it doesn’t have most of the parts that make up terrestrial organisms and it communicates solely by reading and implanting thoughts directly into your brain which is way less fun than it sounds.
“Polite?” I ask, focusing really hard on putting the question up on display in my mind. Removing the mental background noise is difficult and takes some practice but fortunately, Sestron-Sya-Saratan’s species (called the Xrs’las) are very patient folk.
The answer reverberates through my head, coming from nowhere and everywhere at the same time and spreads into every cell of my body. It sort of feels like standing next to a loudspeaker at a concert, minus the excessive decibels and—as the Xrs’las assured me—the potential long-lasting damage to my hearing. The sensation, albeit powerful, immediately disappears as my alien guest doesn’t bother elaborating on its statement.
I shrug and get back to whisking my eggs. “Polite” isn’t exactly on the top of my list of adjectives I’d use to describe Crumbs (considering his propensity for attacking my feet, expressing himself loudly at what most people would consider to be an ungodly hour, and shoving his nose into every single meal I eat) but I remind myself that different intelligent beings have different perception, metrics, values, and all that good stuff. Plus, Sestron-Sya-Saratan is probably reading the cat’s mind right now and has therefore more insight than me.
For a brief moment, I consider asking it to tell me what exactly Crumbs is thinking (if there even is a coherent thought process to speak of) but then I quickly disregard the idea. Some things are better left a mystery.
“So how long before you’re ready to continue your journey?” I ask instead and hope that it didn’t come out sounding (feeling?) inhospitable.
“My internal biology will be adjusted for the next phase of the transit in ten of your minutes,” the alien replies immediately.
I fire up the stove and drop a hearty chunk of butter in a frying pan. Once the butter starts bubbling, I pour the eggs in and add a pinch of salt and pepper. As predicted, Crumbs catches a whiff of a meal nearing completion and in a few elegant hops relocates himself closer. Sestron-Sya-Saratan also changes its position, floating over to the kitchen table.
“Will you be coming through here again soon?”
I put the ready eggs on a plate and sit down at the table across from the levitating alien. To an unknowing observer, it may seem rude that I haven’t offered it anything while I myself am stuffing my face but the fact is there is absolutely nothing on Earth (or the entire Solar system for that matter) that the Xrs’las could consume as food.
“I will indeed be utilizing this particular transit node. However, based on the average lifespan of your species as well as the external factors, you will with utmost certainty be deceased at the time of my next arrival.”
Jeez, a simple “no” would have sufficed, flashes through my mind. I promptly discard the thought and replace it with the next question.
“Any idea who I can expect after you? Another Xrs’las?”
For some reason I see this answer pop up in my brain in bright red which never happened before. Or am I imagining it?
“A member of the Council will be performing an assessment of this transit node to determine its suitability for continuous utilization,” Sestron-Sya-Saratan thinks then which causes me to almost choke on my eggs.
“Like an inspection?”
“I believe you can utilize such expression to describe the act.”
“But what exactly do they want to inspect? I mean it’s not like I built it, right? If it’s about the accommodation I think my apartment is equipped enough to handle any…” I stop myself there, realizing that the explosion of thoughts may not be entirely legible to the alien.
Nonetheless, a reply follows: “I am unable to provide you with the exact details.”
It starts floating towards the bathroom. The ten minutes are almost up.
“Wait!” I get up, abandoning the rest of my breakfast. “Can you at least tell me what happens if the inspectors don’t like what they see?”
It pauses briefly at the bathroom door.
“A negative outcome will necessitate the complete elimination of your planet.”
The statement just hangs there and it takes me an embarrassingly long moment to fully realize what it means. In the meantime, Sestron-Sya-Saratan drifts to the bathtub.
“Hold on! How am I supposed to…What do I…” once again I find myself mentally rambling. “That’s not…”
There is a loud pop and a sudden flash of light as the alien exits the “normal” four-dimensional space and enters the inter-dimensional super-highway.
It’s not every day that the fate of the world rests on your shoulders.
That it’s because of some vague, unexplained reason presented to you by a telepathic alien from outer space is definitely a first.
Less than two hours have passed since Sestron-Sya-Saratan’s departure and I already thoroughly cleaned every centimeter of my apartment, took out the garbage, stocked the fridge with an abundance of blue cheese (just in case the inspector turns out to be one of the Meoks—they absolutely love that stuff), and checked and rechecked if my wifi works (not that my guests would be interested in such an antiquated technology).
I am back at the kitchen table, watching Crumbs gorge on the wet food he loves so much and pondering what the hell else I can do to make this “transit node suitable for continuous utilization”. My mind inevitably wonders back to that fateful August night when the first extraterrestrial being popped out of thin air in my bathroom.
It was one of those summer nights when even the stubbornest deniers of global warming were forced to reevaluate their standpoint. I couldn’t sleep and it wasn’t only because of the heat–there was also at least one mosquito intent on adding to my already impressive collection of itchy bites. Annoyed beyond measure, I retreated into the kitchen and dedicated a considerable amount of time rummaging through the fridge in an attempt to find something cold and refreshing since even the cold water from the tap wasn’t really cold.
Eventually, I managed to retrieve a laughably small bottle of an orange juice that I’d long forgotten I bought (it had expired three months back but I figured that it couldn’t have gotten that bad) and as I was closing the fridge, I heard a loud unidentifiable noise from the bathroom. My first thought was that Crumbs was being his usual hyperactive self but he was cowering in the corner, ears pointed and eyes like two giant black saucers.
That couldn’t mean anything good.
The noise changed into a series of soft thumps that seemed to have confirmed that there was, in fact, someone in the bathroom. As the pessimistic realist I am, I immediately envisioned the worst possible scenario which involved me getting robbed, beaten up, raped, and possibly murdered. That I lived on the tenth floor, the bathroom window would barely allow Crumbs to squeeze through, much less a grown human being, and the front door was securely locked didn’t really fit any theory featuring an intruder but in the heat of the moment I, naturally, didn’t realize that and instead focused my efforts on finding something that could be used for self-defense purposes.
Before I had a chance to come up with a suitable weapon, however, the bathroom door opened with a creak (my landlord promised me he’d fix that when I’d moved in nearly two months ago but never got around to actually do it in spite of my numerous reminders) and out came, well, something. It wasn’t a burglar or a thief, or Sergej, the Ukrainian contract killer—which I acknowledged with some relief—but a creature that appeared to have come straight from phantasmagoric dreams.
It didn’t look like any animal, living or extinct, nor did it resemble anything I’d seen in the numerous movies and television series I enjoyed binge-watching on Netflix. It stood on three thick legs that didn’t appear to have any joints and its upper body (if you could call it that) consisted of a plait of asymmetrical spheres that reminded me of garlic. From each sphere, appendages protruded that branched into progressively thinner threads. There was no head, no obvious sensory organs—both of which only added to the unsettlement I felt as it was awkwardly moving towards me.
Crumbs hissed and started emitting a low growl. I was surprised to see that the garlic creature actually stopped; and downright astonished when it (in perfect Queen’s English) said: “Greetings! I mean you no harm.”
The voice sounded muffled like it was coming from inside a coffin. It made sense considering the lack of orifices on the creature’s body. What was more interesting, however, was that the greeting somehow took all my fear and anxiety away and replaced them with a comfortable sense of friendliness and safety, as if I was simply meeting my friend or a family member. Crumbs was affected in the same way: he stopped growling, straightened up, and even came forward to greet the strange being.
It wasn’t much of a surprise that my unexpected visitor turned out to be an alien; I had my suspicions from the moment I’d laid eyes on it but I guess the logical, grounded part of my brain didn’t want to accept it as an explanation from the get-go. Its name was Eeeuri; Eeeuri was a proud member of a very advanced empathetic species called Xerryns who were currently in process of constructing a highly sophisticated inter-dimensional transport network which would enable them to bridge incredible interstellar and intergalactic distances in a short time. The network consisted of numerous “transit nodes” spaced evenly throughout galaxies that basically served as pit stops—apparently, the transportation process took a huge toll on the physiology of whoever or whatever was undergoing it and therefore had to be broken down into phases with recovery periods in between.
Eeeuri didn’t explain how this network worked exactly since “my intellectual capacity was not sufficient to fully comprehend the technical particularities” (I ultimately decided not to take that as an insult). It did tell me, however, that as one such node had just been placed directly into my apartment I would have the pleasure of meeting a plethora of cosmic travellers in the foreseeable future.
This was by no means an exaggeration: in the following weeks and months I received quite a number of visitors from every imaginable corner of the Universe, so to speak. It turns out that Xerryns were only one of the many civilizations that came to utilize the transport network. Initially, I was keeping count (and detailed notes along with it) but I quickly gave up when they started popping in every week or so. Still, I learned a lot in regards to the intergalactic community–had Fermi known how many different intelligent species there are, he would have never even thought of asking the famous question–and mankind’s place in it which was naturally far less glorious than anyone on Earth would appreciate.
I’ve been a perfect host throughout their visits, always accommodating, polite, respectful, and never once any of the aliens showed so much as a smirk of dissatisfaction—which is why this whole thing came totally out of the blue.
“So what the heck am I supposed to do?” I ask Crumbs who’s just finished eating and now stares at me with his dark, incomprehensive eyes.
“It’s not my fault they decided to build it here.”
My contemplation is cut short by a sudden knock on the door. Crumbs’ ears twitch and he bolts to the safety of the bedroom.
I get up, cross the length of the apartment in a few quick strides, and open the door. Two uniformed police officers, a man and a woman, stand on my doorstep, serious expression in their faces, and a couple of steps behind them lurks Mrs Fitzpatrick, my neighbor and the living epitome of nosy.
“Ms Nowak?” the male officer says in a tone that doesn’t allow for any other than positive reply.
“Sara Nowak?” elaborates his colleague quickly just in case there are somehow other Nowaks living in my apartment. Good on her to cover all bases!
“Yes?” I say hesitantly, immediately realizing that it sounded more like a question than answer.
My indecisiveness seems to have little effect on them.
“We have received a noise complaint from your neighbor.”—I see a satisfactory grin stretch across Mrs Fitzpatrick’s face—”Do you mind if we take a look around?”
“Noise complaint?” I repeat, dumbfounded.
That doesn’t seem right. The loudest sounds coming from my modest residence often belong to Crumbs when he demands food; I certainly never play loud music, stomp my feet, drill into the wall, or do anything that would produce enough decibels to be classified as excessive noise. And as for my guests, most of them are not even capable of conventional verbal communication.
“Yes, ma’am,” the officers nod in unison—at least they seem polite.
“Sure, come on in,” I step aside to let them enter. I want to add “but you won’t find much” but it occurs to me that that would make me sound guilty.
Regardless, a hint of a doubt appears somewhere in the back of my head but I promptly squash it. I cleaned, after all, and the aliens never leave anything behind anyway. Nothing to worry about!
The officers take their shoes off (a gesture I wouldn’t really expect from them) and cautiously move through the apartment. I follow them; not too closely though so as not to appear threatening.
“Are there any other people here?” the woman officer asks once we arrive in the kitchen.
It’s an unnecessary question since they have already peeked into every room, including the bathroom, but I decide not to point that out.
“Nope, only me and my cat.”
I point in the direction of the bedroom where Crumbs is undoubtedly squeezed in the tiny space underneath the bed, panicked out of his mind. She smiles faintly and nods in understanding—she is probably a fellow pet owner.
“Did you have any visitors recently?”
“No,” I shake my head, and because it seems like a too short of an answer, I add: “I mean, my brother stopped by two weeks ago but he stayed only for a couple of hours. Nothing since then.”
“Are you certain?” the man eyes me suspiciously.
The two police officers exchange looks.
“The problem is, Ms Nowak,…”—I can feel my heartbeat rise—”…that we have a reason to believe that there is a very suspicious activity going on within your premises.”
Wait, aren’t they supposed to be here because the old hag next door filed some nonsensical noise complaint?
The man’s features harden.
“Indeed. Is there something you would like to tell us, ma’am?”
How about that there is a good chance the world is going to end in the foreseeable future because the aliens may feel that my home doesn’t suit their needs anymore, and you are here asking me ridiculous questions instead of spending whatever time we may have left with people you care for?
“No, not really,” I say and then surprise myself by adding (in a tone that sounds more accusatory than I wanted): “Excuse me, but what is this about?”
They both ignore my inquiry; instead, the woman walks over to the kitchen counter and pulls the top drawer open. I am no expert in police procedures but I am pretty sure she needs a warrant to do that—before I have a chance to express the objection, however, she retrieves a small yellow notebook from inside and with a triumphant smile turns to her colleague.
I recognize it immediately, of course. It’s the notebook in which I used to keep statistics of the alien visits and their thorough descriptions, but the problem is that I threw it away along with a slew of other useless things last year during my annual spring cleaning. And even if I somehow hadn’t done that, why would I keep it together with the silverware?
What the hell is going on?
“Care to explain what this is?” the man says after she hands him the notebook.
He flips it over in his hands and opens it to take a brief look at pages filled with my handwriting.
I don’t say anything.
“Pakrills: species of levitating aliens; look sort of like a flying cactus; communicate telepathically but it’s different from the Xrs’las somewhat; Crumbs likes them more,” he reads aloud from the notebook.
“I have a wild imagination,” I offer quietly. “I write science fiction stories.”
Needless to say, that’s an outright lie but I am astonished (and weirdly proud as well) at how easily it just rolled off my tongue.
The officer shakes his head and flips the notebook shut.
“We know, Ms Nowak. There is no use in denying—don’t make your situation more difficult than it already is.”
“I have no idea what you mean! Who are you anyway? You’re not the police!”
He looks me dead in the eyes and I feel the floor dip beneath my feet.
“Do you stand by your statement?”
“I do,” I say faster than I want to.
I expect him to instruct me to turn around, put handcuffs on and recite my rights (yes, I know, I’ve watched too many cop shows) but none of that happens. Instead, they both smile—and it’s easily the creepiest smile I’ve ever seen in my life.
“Very well,” they say simultaneously.
The air around me shimmers akin to a mirage in the Sahara and the next thing I know, I am looking at good old Sestron-Sya-Saratan, its asymmetrical body levitating a meter off the floor. Next to it stands 144532, member of a unique unnamed species that utilizes strings of numbers in place of names. They are part organic, part artificial and can apparently manipulate their immediate physical surroundings to render themselves completely invisible or…
“So, you are the inspectors,” I say-think once I’ve calmed the storm of thoughts in my head enough to express myself clearly.
“Affirmative,” the Xrs’las confirms. “I believe you will be pleased to know that we have completed the assessment and arrived to a conclusion. The transit node will continue being utilized. You are a suitable operator.”
Huh. I know I should be downright ecstatic by its statement but what I feel instead is a whole cocktail of opposing emotions. I am a suitable operator?
“Hold on! That was all about me? You were inspecting me? What about the transit node, my apartment, everything?”
“The transit node as well as your living conditions are factors that can be easily influenced. However, the Council deemed it necessary to evaluate your psychological characteristics, with an emphasis on competency and discretion, in light of the complicated geopolitical situation on your planet and the innate propensity for irrational and violent behavior of your species.”
“You wanted me to keep your existence a secret…why didn’t you just tell me that? Besides, I’ve never told a soul about you!”
The truth is, none of the aliens explicitly stated that I cannot tell my fellow Homo Sapiens about my secret life as a manager of the first ever alien Airbnb but I took that as a given. After all, everyone saw E.T., right?
“Negative. We observed many instances on your planet when verbal agreements were not honored due to the exposure to external, stress-inducing factors. Such factors had to be introduced during the assessment in order to obtain a complete appraisal of your position.”
I experience a brief aha moment as all the pieces—from the neighbour’s noise complaint to increasingly more accurate questions of the fake officers and the comeback of my long discarded notebook—fall into place. No matter how I look at it, no matter how much a part of me wants to argue, the alien is right: everyone can make promises but very few actually keep them under all circumstances.
“So this is it, then? You won’t destroy Earth?”
It may sound like stupid question (and it probably is, considering the context) but it never hurts to be sure—especially when the stakes are so high.
Sestron-Sya-Saratan replies and I can swear that there is a hint of amusement in the background of its telepathic statement.
“The threat, too, was only a part of the assessment. The Council would never allow the complete annihilation of a lesser species.”
Martin Lochman is an emerging author from the Czech Republic, currently living and working as a University librarian in Malta. He first started writing and publishing in Czech but as time went by and his affinity for English language grew, he switched to English. Some of his flash fiction and short stories appeared (or are forthcoming) in Theme of Absence, Aphelion, Aurora Wolf, AntipodeanSF, 101Words, The Martian Magazine, The Weird and Whatnot, and 365tomorrows. You can find him at: https://martinlochmanauthor.wordpress.com/.