At seven years of age, Quince had been
living in a world filled with aliens for half his life. Some
of the kids at school were collecting Visitor Trading Cards
that featured elaborate paintings of various alien races on
the front, and tidbits of information about their physiology
and culture on the back. When Quince asked for a pack of the
cards at the toy store, his dad told him that he wasnt
going to spend good money on cardboard. Surreptitiously and
methodically, Quince had been trading away the desserts out
of his sack lunches to friends to get some of the cards. He
had fifteen so far, out of a total of fifty.
No, Quince never thought twice about
the fact that there were other worlds out there with intelligent
life. When hed watch an old movie on TV and thered
be fake aliens, hed laugh at how silly they looked,
since he knewfrom the cardswhat real aliens looked
Even so, hed seen only a few
of them in person. Once or twice on the street when his dad
took him into Seattle for a Mariners game. A Lily came to
his school once for a special Alien Awareness Day. The thing
was big and wavy and really pretty, like a drip of oil trapped
mid-splash, with the sun shining off of it in a million colors.
Quince and the other kids listened to the Lily make a big
speech, which was okay. Then they got to ask questions.
How old are you?
Do you have any brothers and
Can you swim?
When Quince got his chance, he asked,
Do Lilies have pets? The visitor said that, no,
Lilies never kept animals as pets. They were allowed to roam
free on their home planet. Quince politely thanked their guest
for answering his question, but he was still somewhat sad.
Quince really wanted a pet. His dad,
who had an answer for everything, it seemed, said that he
wasnt going to spend good money on something that would
poop all over his house. Even after Quinces heartfelt
and entirely sincere insistence that he would totally take
care of a pethe wanted a doghis dad didnt
budge. A half-hearted attempt to get his sister, Sarah, and
his mom on his side of the issue didnt help either.
His mom didnt want to have to wash a dog. Sarah just
thought they were gross. What did she know? She was only five.
And a girl.
Dad always took Quince and Sarah to
school in the morning, and their mom always picked them up
after school to bring them home. One Thursday afternoon, Quince
was surprised to see his dads Volvo parked in the driveway
when they got home. Dad almost never came home early. There
was another car parked there, too, a big black limo.
Dads got a meeting,
Whats that? Sarah
asked, kicking the back of Quinces seat as she did so.
Quit it! he yelled at her.
Dads talking to someone from work.
You both need to stay out of
Daddys study until his meeting is over, Mom warned.
Okay, Quince lied.
Quince followed Sarah up the walkway
and into the house. Sarah ran up the stairs to her room, little
legs pounding on the carpet. Quince stopped at the first step,
crouching to tie his shoelaces, which seemed to always come
undone all by themselves. He tied slowly, carefully, waiting
for his mom to go into the kitchen to put away the two bags
of groceries she picked up at the store.
Quince crept across the hall to the
door of his dads study. The door was delightfully ajar
and Quince peeked in. Dad was talking with a Snake.
the properties youre
looking for, the Snake said. He sounded like he was
from another country.
Look, Im not paying good
money for this unless I know itll help with the project.
Dad talked to the Snake just like he
talked to Quince. That was funny.
No worries, mate. There is no
better species in the galaxy to study for electro-biochemical
Quince didnt know what they were
talking about. He was more interested in watching the Snake.
The aliens back was to Quince, but he could see most
of his furry body coiled on the chair. He held a small, metal
box in his human-looking hands.
Dad stared at the Snake for a moment.
Quince knew that stare. He used it on his kids when he thought
they were being bad and lying about it.
Okay. He pulled his checkbook
out of the desk and wrote the Snake a check. The way he pursed
his lips, Quince knew he was paying a lot of money for that
The Snake took the check, glanced at
it to confirm the amount, and then slipped it into a pocket
that seemed to be hidden in his clothes. Its been
a pleasure, Mr. Almeda. The Snake slithered out of the
chair as Quinces dad got up from behind his desk. Quince
scampered away from the door and ran up the steps far enough
to hide from Dads view.
The Snake left the study with Dad following.
They said their goodbyes at the front door and the Snake left.
A couple of seconds later, Quince heard the limo drive away.
Dad turned to go back into the study, but he was stopped by
Vance! Is your meeting over?
Yes. Just a second.
I could use your help out here.
Quince recognized that tone just as
well as his dad did. Ignoring that tone was perilous. Dad
dutifully went down the hall to the kitchen. Quince saw his
opportunity and flew down the stepscareful not to make
any soundand snuck into the study. The metal box was
still on the desk. He undid the latch and flipped up the lid.
The inside of the box was padded with dark gray foam. There
were twenty little holes in the foam. Ten of the holes were
empty, but the other ten had stoppered test tubes nestled
in them. Quince gingerly pulled one of the test tubes out.
Inside, floating in a little bit of water, was a small, gray
seed. Or, at least, it looked like a seed.
Elaine, you know I dont
like beets. Dads voice wafted in through the open
Its the only vegetable
I can get the kids to eat, Mom complained. Quince knew
Dad would be back soon, but he wanted to get a closer look
at the seed. He pulled off the stopper and dumped it out into
his hand. The water splashed onto the floor, but the seed
caught between two of his fingers. He held it between his
thumb and forefinger. It was a little squishy, kind of like
a Brussels sprout, but smaller.
Quince put the stopper back on the
test tube, pushed the test tube back into the foam, closed
the lid on the case, and swiped at the water with his shoe
to spread it around and make it less noticeable on the wood
Cant I have a salad just
once in a while?
You want me to spend good money
on salad ingredients when youre the only one who
Dont do that, Dad
said. He sounded a little bit mad. Quince did not want to
be in the study when he got back. He checked the hall and
saw his dad was right there, turned around, still facing the
kitchen. Quince opened the door and slipped carefully out
into the hall.
His dad took that exact moment
to turn around.
Dont go into my study when
Im not there. You know better than that.
I wasnt, Quince protested.
Dad waved a hand at Quince, the standard
gesture he used to tell his kids he wanted them to go to their
rooms. Quince obeyed, careful not to crush the seed in his
hand as he ran upstairs.
Safely in his room, away from prying
eyes, he opened his hand and looked again at the seed. He
needed better light, so he took it over to the window to get
a good look at it in the sunlight. Quince set the seed down
on the windowsill. He got down on his knees to get close to
it to see what it really looked like. In school once, his
teacher showed the class a picture of a pig embryo when it
was really small. It looked like a sea creature, but with
closed eyes and with all its legs pulled in like it was sleeping.
The seed looked a lot like that. Quince realized it wasnt
a seed at all. It was an animal!
Then it moved. Not a lot, but a little.
It shivered, squirmed, tilted over just a bit. Quentin watched
with clear anticipation as one of the little creatures
legs stretched out. Quentin gingerly brought one finger down
to touch the waking creature.
Quentin! Sarah! Dinner!
Not fair, Quince complained.
He spoke softly to the little animal. Ill be right
back up, Junior.
He was, in fact, not right back up.
Dinner was, as always, a long and boring affair. Quince generally
ate as fast as he could and then spent the better part of
an hour trying to convince his parents to excuse him from
the table. Sarah had decided lately that mimicking Quince
was the best fun possible, so she wolfed down her meal as
well and pestered their parents just like Quince. The net
effect of this was to have both Mom and Dad insist they stay
at the table and act like a gentleman and a lady.
In a burst of brilliant clarity, Quince
decided to start calling Sarah Pigface. This had
the first effect of making Sarah mad, then it made his parents
mad, then Sarah complained, making his parents even more
Go to your room, young man!
Okay! Quince said, and
ran up the stairs. He made sure to shut his door so he could
check on Junior with no interference from anyone. He went
back to the windowsill
but Junior was gone! He checked
the little trough where the screen slid back and forth. Nothing.
He got down on hands and knees and looked on the floor under
the window. The sun had dropped behind the houses across the
street, so he had to turn on the lamp to get more light in
Where are you? he whispered.
An answering clatter came from inside
his closet. The light in there was already ona bad habit
that his father had little success breaking him ofbut
the door was almost closed. Quince went to the closet and
slowly opened the door, peering at the floor. If Junior made
it all the way over here, his new little legs must have been
working pretty well.
Quince was not prepared for the surprise
inside the closet. The clatter had been a huge tub of Legos
tipping over and spilling everywhere. Standing in the middle
of the sea of multi-colored blocks was Junior. At least, Quince
had to assume it was Junior.
The little seed had been
smaller than the fingernail on Quinces pinkie. This
gray creature was as big as a football. It still looked a
lot like a pig. Not a Pig, really, which was a scary kind
of alien, but a regular Earth pig. It had a pudgy body and
a round head. It even had a short snout like a pig, though
at the end, instead of two nostrils, it had a funny bunch
of dark, wet wrinkles. It had two black eyes, set wide on
either side of its head. Its eyes were big compared to the
size of its head, almost like a horse would have. Juniors
legs were kind of like a pigs, thick and short. The
ones in the front were larger, more muscular than the ones
in the back
or the ones in the middle. With six
legs, it was clearer than ever that Quinces pet was
something from another planet.
Junior turned its head toward Quince
and made a loud snort.
Shh! Quince whispered,
pushing his way into the cluttered closet and closing the
door behind him. He squatted down to get closer to Junior.
If my parents find you, theyll kill me!
Junior sniffed at Quince. He took a
couple of steps toward the boy, little hooves knocking aside
the scattered Lego blocks. Quentin slowly, carefully lowered
his right hand to the creature. The snout came up, smelling
Quentins hand somberly.
I smell okay?
Apparently, he did. Junior rubbed his
wet nose against Quinces hand. Quince let him do it,
even though his nose was kind of gross and snotty. With his
other hand, he petted Junior across his back. His skin was
soft, which made sense, since Junior was just a baby. He had
some very fine hair as well, which Quince liked. It made Junior
seem more like an Earth animal, like a really weird dog or
You are so cool! Quince
After an evening getting acquainted
with his new pet, Quince finally had to get to bed. Tomorrow
was a school day.
When he woke, Junior was already up
and perched on the windowsill, butting his head against the
glass. Outside, the sky was cloudy, and looked like it might
rain. Quince hopped out of bed and lifted Junior to set him
down on the floor.
You cant go outside yet.
Ill try to take you out this afternoon after school.
Junior looked up at Quince with his
wide, dark eyes. He looked like he understood, but with pets,
did you ever really know? Quince planned out in his head how
he would stuff Junior into his backpack after he got home
and then go out for a walk. Maybe hed take him down
to the park. He hoped Junior would get along okay with the
dogs in the park.
Dads voice intruded on his planning.
Quince! Sarah! Up and at em!
Quince set about getting ready for
They almost didnt have recess.
Just like Quince had expected, it did rain most of the day.
Thankfully, there was a short break, and the sun even came
out briefly. All the grades in the school decided to take
the opportunity to let the students out at the same time,
so the playground was really crowded. Quince didnt mind.
He pulled his best friend Barry off to the side of the playground
to talk to him in private.
I found a pet.
A dog? Barry asked. Barry
had a profound desire to get a dog himself. He wanted a husky.
No. Its an alien
I call him Junior. He grew really
fast. Hes about this big. Quince held out his
Can I see him?
Can you come over to play after
Barrys face fell. I cant.
Were going out to the mountains this weekend.
You can see him when you get
The day dragged like no other in Quinces
memory. He realized he hadnt fed Junior. The little
guy had grown from seed-sized to where he was without eating
anything. He was an alien. Maybe he didnt have to eat
at all? Thatd be weird, Quince concluded.
Back in class after lunch, Mr. Weiland
showed them a PowerPoint of the Blues home planet. The
pictures looked like something out of a movie, with bizarre
cityscapes and some natural rock formations that looked kind
of like Earth, but with all wrong colors. This seemed like
a perfect opportunity to do a little research.
Mr. Weiland? Quince asked,
his hand politely raised.
Do all aliens eat?
Do all aliens eat what?
Do they all have to eat food?
I think they do.
Now Quince was a little worried. He
glanced nervously at the clock on the back wall of the classroom.
It was more than an hour until class let out. Junior
was at home, probably starving, and he couldnt do anything
to help him!
Quince prayed that his mother would
be there to pick them up on time. She wasnt usually
late, but it had happened a couple of times. Quince prayed
that she wouldnt have some kind of errand to run on
the way home. That was more common, but today, amazingly,
luck was on Quinces side. Mom drove him and his sister
Quince hit the front door at a run.
You want a snack? his mom
called after him.
Quince entered his room, worried that
hed find Junior sick, or dying, or maybe even dead.
He really didnt want Junior to die.
Junior wasnt dead. Junior was
doing great. He had figured out how to pull open Quinces
dresser drawers and had pulled out all of Quinces clothes.
He had yanked all the blankets and sheets and pillows off
Quinces bed. He had strewn not only Legos, but all the
pieces from every board game Quince owned all over the floor.
Checkers and Monopoly money and little white plastic organs
from Operation were everywhere.
When Quince entered the room, Junior
was nosing a glob of Silly Putty around the floor with his
snotty nose. He looked up when Quince came in and gave him
a friendly snort.
Junior! What are you doing?
Quince closed the door and went over to pick up the animal.
He seemed really heavy. Maybe that was just Quinces
imagination. He also seemed to be bigger. He sat on the end
of the bed and held Junior, who squirmed a little in his arms.
He was bigger. Not a lot, but definitely bigger than this
morning. He couldnt fit Junior into his backpack now.
Itd look like he was carrying Sarah in there.
What are you eating? Quince
wondered. He went through the clothes that were strewn around.
Nothing seemed to be missing. He must have been eating something.
Wait here. Ill be right
back. He set Junior down on the bed. Junior folded his
six legs under him and sat.
Downstairs, Quince went into the kitchen
and started to gather up things that Junior might like to
eat. He got a fruit (some grapes) and a vegetable (a zucchini)
and a bread (two slices of whole wheat) and a dairy (a hunk
of blue cheese that Dad planned to put on salads).
Quince, I thought you didnt
want a snack, his mom called from the dining room, where
she was working on her laptop.
Im just getting a drink,
Quince said. Thinking that was a good idea, he got a bottle
of water from the fridge. It was tough to carry all this stuff,
using both arms and his chin to keep it from falling. But
he didnt want to make two trips and maybe have to answer
more questions from Mom. Back up to his room he went.
Junior was still waiting patiently
on the bed. Quince sat next to him and methodically offered
each of the foods to Junior. The alien sniffed each of them,
seeming to like some, but not others. But he didnt try
to eat any of them.
Quince was puzzled. He opened the bottle
and was preparing to feed some of the water to Junior when
he realized something that he should have seen all alongJunior
didnt have a mouth. Under his snout, where a pigs
mouth would be, was just smooth, solid flesh. He looked all
over Juniors head. Nothing. Maybe there was a mouth
hidden inside the nest of his wrinkly nose? He hoped not.
Eating through there would be really sick.
Youre kind of weird, arent
Junior responded by jumping onto Quinces
lap and pushing his forelegs onto Quinces chest. Quince
laughed, rolling Junior off of him and tickling his belly.
Junior loved that, squirming around and making a surprisingly
low-pitched grumbling sound that had to be laughter.
Quince! That was Dad. He
was home early again. Quince quieted Junior down, then went
downstairs. Dad was in the living room with Sarah and Mom.
So, whats the big surprise,
Dad? Mom asked.
He held up four tickets and handed
one to Mom. Mom laughed. Youre kidding?
What? Quince asked. He
took his ticket from Dad. It was for something called the
Chevrolet Cup. Whats that? Quince asked.
Its the hydroplane races.
Out on Lake Washington. Weve got a spot right on the
I-90 bridge. Were gonna watch the speed boats from right
there on the water!
Cool! Quince shouted.
Cool! Sarah parroted.
When is it? Quince asked.
Dad pointed back at the ticket. Quince read the date: Saturday,
August tenth. Tomorrow?
So much for sneaking Junior out to
the park on the weekend. Still, this was going to be great!
Quince spent the eveningafter
another interminable dinnerin his room playing with
Junior. He knew Junior had to be just an animal. If he was
an intelligent alien, like an Eel or a Vampiretwo of
Quinces favorites from his card collectionthen
that Snake wouldnt have sold the little baby Juniors
to his dad. Thatd be wrong.
And anyway, since Junior didnt
have a mouth, how could he talk? Some aliens had strange ways
of talking, like Rope Men and Skeletons, but Junior hadnt
even tried to talk. Well, he was just a baby, though. Maybe
hed talk some later? Thatd be really cool.
A knock at the door startled Quince.
Junior snuffled. Quince shushed him, then led him into the
Yeah, Dad? Dad opened the
door and looked in.
Quince, were gonna
What happened to your room? Dad looked at the devastation
with wide eyes.
Oh, yeah. I was looking for something.
Not the floor, I guess. You need
to pick this all up.
Were leaving at eight sharp
You still have that Mariners
cap I got you?
Quince cast his
glance around the messy room. He saw the cap and pulled it
out of a pile of underwear. Yeah, I got it.
Youre gonna need it tomorrow.
Its supposed to be sunny all day.
Gotcha. Night, Dad.
Dad looked around the room again with
a concerned frown. Night.
Quince sighed with relief.
In the morning the family went through
their normal getting out of the house routine. It was loud
and frantic and confused. Sarah insisted on wearing two different
colored shoes. Mom was horrified, but Dad finally asked her
what the big deal was. They had to go.
Quince still hadnt figured out
what Junior ate, so he snuck a box of cereal up to his room
for him. Junior didnt even turn from the window. He
had his nose pressed against the glass, leaving a gooey smear.
Quince made a gagging noise, petted Junior once, and ran out
of the room to join his family, who were already getting into
In his haste, Quince left the door
to his bedroom open.
Redmond, Washington was a community
of great wealth. Not ostentatious wealth, generally,
but obvious nonetheless. Virgil Cho was edging his lawn as
the Almedas trooped out to their brand new Volvo wagon, the
mother with her Prada bag, the father with his Ray-Ban sunglasses,
the two kids in colorful Gap Kids clothes. He waved and was
waved to in return. Hed spoken briefly with Vance, the
patriarch of the Almeda family, on a few occasions. Vance
Almeda was nice enough, but he was one of those men whose
every move is calculated to advance his career in some way.
Redmond was a destination for Virgil, headed for retirement
from a merchandising position at Microsoft. This place was
just a pit stop for Vance Almeda.
The family drove off prepared for a
day in the sun, probably something to do with Sea Fair. Virgil
went to one of those parades back in 19 or 20.
He was too old to deal with all the kids now. He preferred
to spend his Saturdays on his lawn.
The Almedas never worked on their larger,
more impressive garden. They hired people to come in to do
it. When Virgil went to the dry cleaners and was helped by
a kindly old Chinese gent, he felt a little pang of guilt
that he was paying one of his countrymen to wash his jackets
and ties. Did Vance feel the same when he paid his Latino
gardeners? Probably not. People so concerned with advancement
didnt feel emotions like that.
Virgils annoyance with the Almedas
was aggravatedor perhaps even causedby
the fact that their house was so perfectly positioned for
that garden of theirs. The light their front lawn got was
stunning, at least on days like this when the sun was out.
Their front roomwhich Virgil had never been invited
to see, incidentallyfeatured wide, tall windows that
let the sun stream in.
The edger buzzed angrily as Virgil
overshot the end of his lawn and ran it up against the street
curb. He cursed loudly and shut down the machine. Enough woolgathering,
he thought. He went back to the garage to get the hose and
set up the sprinkler. Best to get the grass watered before
the sun rose over his house and started to shine on his
When he opened the faucet on the side
of his house, Virgil heard a scary rumbling sound. Were his
pipes that bad? The house was only built in 08!
He hurriedly turned the wheel back, shutting off the water
flow, even before any of it made it as far as the end of the
The sound remained. It grew in volume.
Virgil went around to his front yard to see where the sound
was coming from. It rose again, then fell, but didnt
disappear entirely. He thought it was coming from the Almedas
There was someone moving around in
their house. Virgil took a few steps across his dry grass.
He couldnt really see into the Almedas front room,
but there was a shadow shifting across the glass. Who was
that? The maid? He had seen the whole family leave just a
The rumble expanded into a full-fledged
roar. The whole bank of windows on the front of their
house exploded outward. A bull charged out of the house! Virgil
instinctively backpedaled, tripping over the hose and landing
on his ass. Through the trembling ground he felt the creature
approach, its hooves audible on grass, and then quite loud
clopping on the street between their houses.
Virgil raised his head, almost scared
to look. The large animal snuffling in the street not ten
feet away wasnt a bull. He had thought that because
it was so much thicker in the front than the back. Its front
legs were nearly as big around as Virgils torso. Its
gray skin reminded Virgil of an elephant. Its face was piggish.
That massive head twisted toward Virgil,
the two huge, wide-set eyes stared at him. Virgil tried to
crabwalk backwards. The creature took that as an invitation,
and it rushed forward, covering ten feet in no time flat.
Thick, dark hooves crushed into Virgils lawn on either
side of his head. The other four legs straddled his
body. A wet, noisy nest of wavy fleshthe creatures
nose?lowered to Virgils face. Sniff. Sniff.
Whether it was his smell or his plaintive
cry, something about Virgil was lacking, and the creature
slowly backed away. It turned in a wide circle and went back
out onto the lane. The nose came up to smell the air. It turned,
faced west, and galloped away.
Virgil said a quick prayer of thanks
that he hadnt been killed or eaten by the creature.
Then he fainted.
Officer Andrea Slagle cruised around
town in search of illegal parkers. A lot of her fellow officers
on the Redmond Police Department tended to be lenient about
that kind of thing. They told her they preferred to investigate
crime. Screw that. Parking illegally was a crime. Not
a destructive or sexy crime, no, but something she hated.
People were a little too lax up here in the North West.
Angela was from Texas, Houston in particular, and she was
just bringing a little bit of her homes law abiding
history to this breezy, touchy-feely place.
Slagle, where are you?
Angela tapped the mic at her lapel.
This is Bravo Six Zero. Im traveling north on
148th Avenue. Over. She followed procedure, even when
the dispatchers didnt.
Yeah, we got a call that theres
a rhinoceros on Redmond Way, headed for Kirkland. Are you
close to there?
Roger. A rhinoceros? Must
be some kid tripping. Shed keep an eye out for reckless
drivers. If this kid was tripping and driving and talking
to the police on a cell phone, he was about to win the Slagle
trifecta. She was only a couple of blocks from Redmond Way,
in the middle of a quiet suburban neighborhood. When she pulled
up to the intersection, the light was red, so she came to
a full and complete stop. She peered to the right. She tapped
Dispatch, this is Bravo Six Zero.
Im at Redmond Way. I dont
Her voice trailed away in a very unprofessional
Slagle? You there?
Two SUVs and a man on a motorcycle
blew past Angelas squad car, going west. Traffic from
the east came to an abrupt halt, with half a dozen vehicles
doing very illegal u-turns in the middle of the intersection.
The creature running down Redmond Way
didnt look like a rhinoceros to Angela. It looked like
a dump truck. A big dump truck. This thing didnt really
even fit into one lane. As it galloped past Angela, she felt
the ground tremble. The beast had to shoulder aside a Mercedes
that hadnt finished its impromptu u-turn quite fast
enough. The cars air bags deployed as it flew five feet
and crunched into a stalled Honda.
Dispatch, Im in pursuit!
She flipped on her lights and sirens
and peeled out onto the street, turning left from the right
lane, following the wide swath of open street left by the
In pursuit of what?
More cars ahead scrambled to get out
of the way of the oncoming monster. From the rear, it looked
a lot less dangerous, since its backside was smaller than
its front, though still freakishly large. Its
an animal, six legs, at least ten feet tall. The beasts
rounded back brushed up against a hanging traffic light as
it moved through another intersection. Make that twelve.
According to her speedometer, sheand
the beastwere doing between forty and sixty miles per
hour. This section of the street was marked by sweeping curves.
She saw the creatures dark hooves skid a little on the
turns, forcing it to slow down. It picked up speed again on
the straightaways, sunlight filtering through the tall pines
that lined the road, painting the beasts light gray
hide in striped shadows.
Approaching the 405 interchange.
Please advise, have Kirkland police been notified?
Yeah, were working on
Angela muttered something really
unprofessional under her breath.
At the 124th Ave intersection, the
monster didnt simply brush against the traffic light.
It bashed directly into it with its nose. Angela tried to
remember if that light was hung at the same height as the
one the creature had just nudged a few moments earlier. She
couldnt be sure, but she thought it was. During that
moment of reflection, the creature slowed down, shaking its
head, as if annoyed by the collision with the signal lamp.
Angela had to slam on her brakes, feeling giddy with the knowledge
that she was about to collide with an alien monster under
the bright, summer sun.
The creature started to move again,
and Angela barely managed not to crash into its rear. As they
passed from Redmond into Kirkland, the land began to slope
down toward the lake. Now, with a wider street ahead of it,
fewer trees to hedge it in, and gravity on its side, the beast
edged up to nearly seventy mph.
Thankfully the motorists were giving
the beast a wide berth. Angela pulled into the oncoming lane
to look ahead at the busy intersection that was coming up
just before the 405 overpass. There were a lot of cars stopped
at the light. The creature was wide enough to fill three lanes.
This was not going to be pretty.
Three lanes? Was the monster growing
right before her eyes?
It seemed to understand that these
obstacles needed to be removed from its path. Rather than
simply trampling the carswhich would have meant instant
death for most of their occupantsit lowered its snout
near to the asphalt.
The closest car in the left lane, a
Porschethankfully one with a hard toptook the
brunt of the creatures blow. The little sports car flipped
up on one side and bashed into the rear of a minivan, pushing
the van into an ancient Ford. The abused Porsche was edged
to the side to join a line of violently sidelined cars in
the right lane. The truck in the turning lane on the far left
tried to escape by pulling out into traffic and got sideswiped
for its trouble.
The damaged minivan continued forward,
butted roughly by the monsters huge snout. It was now
locked in an awkward embrace with the Ford. Both carswhich
looked less and less like vehicles each momentlaunched
like spinning ice dancers into the intersection and directly
into the path of cross traffic, which was blithely unaware
of the danger galloping down the hill.
Protesting squeals from abused tires
and brake pads filled the intersection. When the beast caught
up with the carnage hed caused, he battered against
all of it, sending a dozen more vehicles careening around
like billiard balls.
She called in the scene to her dispatcher
while trying to snake her way forward. Ahead, the beast reached
the 405 overpass. It couldnt run under the bridge, since
it was just a bit too tall. It bent into a crouch and began
to crawl through. This gave Angela a chance to catch up. She
had to slow down significantly to negotiate the aftermath
of the multiple collisions. She cleared the mess just as the
creature reached the far side of the overpass. Back on the
open road, the chase continued.
Hes past the interchange
and still traveling west.
Kirkland Police are on their
I know, Angela didnt say.
She could see down 5th Avenuethe new name of this street
on the west side of the highway. Three Kirkland squad cars,
lights spinning and sirens blaring, sped toward them from
the city center. The beast ignored them and continued west.
When the creature ran past, the drivers of the three patrol
cars panicked and each attempted to do high speed 180 degree
turns to follow. Not one of them accomplished the maneuver.
Angela glanced into her rear-view, hoping that they would
pull out of their ridiculous, tire-smoking spins and join
her in the chase.
For the first time, Angela wondered
what she planned to do when she reached the beast.
This wasnt a dog or a cat or even a stray deer. It was
three lanes wide
no, check that. Four lanes wide.
Dispatch, the thing is growing.
Growing? Growing what?
Im not talking about a
beard! Its getting bigger. Its twice the size
it was when I first saw it!
Uh, yeah. Okay.
Angela growled into the mic in response.
She wasnt the one who had called about a stray rhinoceros
strolling through town.
Deeper into Kirkland, the traffic was
thicker. The creature slowed a bit. It still knocked carsand
one busaside as it went, but it was down to a sedate
forty mph. Then thirty.
Dispatch, the thing is slowing
Its not growing as fast?
She swore she heard laughter on the other end of the radio.
Its slowing down. Moving
In the heart of the Kirkland shopping
district, the beast couldnt help but slow down. It barely
fit on the street, taking up both directions of travel, crushing
trees and signage on the narrow median with its low-hanging
belly. Occasionally it brushed up against the shops with its
flanks, leaving shattered glass and destroyed neon signs in
its path. Following it now at just a little faster than jogging
speed, Angela noted how smooth its skin looked. She saw a
handful of scratches on its haunches from cars and trees it
had scraped against on its journey, but no blood.
They reached the end of 5th. The creature
made a sharp left, trotting down toward a small park with
a boat dock on Lake Washington. The beast slowed to a walk
as it approached the water. Now Angela had the chance to hear
the terrified citizens screaming. Joggers and bicyclists and
parents with strollers all hurried out of its path. Many people
evacuated their cars in the middle of the street and ran.
When the mammoth beast was within only steps of the lake,
it came upon a row of stopped cars. Angela killed her siren
and stopped her squad car. She hopped out and brandished her
Freeze! she yelled. The
handful of onlookers brave enough to watch from the sidelines
looked at her like she was crazy. In her defense, she didnt
know if the creature knew English. It was an alien, after
The beast ignored her as it surveyed
the obstacles. It chose a stylish BMW convertible that had
its top down and stepped onto the car, strangely gingerly.
The German automobile groaned and crunched in a final death
rattle as the monster used it as a stepping stone. Free of
the gridlock, the beast trundled forward to the edge of the
water. Angela followed, stepping between two sedans to get
over to the park.
The creature lowered its nose into
the water and sniffed. Its head reared up and it sneezed out
a great gout of lake water. It shook its head, as if it didnt
like the taste. Angela, her pistol still out and unsafetied,
approached. She tried a different take.
Hey there, big guy?
Now the beast turned around, massive
hooves tearing up manhole sized chunks of earth. It took a
single step forward and was upon her, standing over her like
a three-story building made of gray flesh.
Her training fled.
Really, what training did she have that could contend with
she mumbled again.
As if bored by her, the creature did
a strange little circular dance on its six legs, sniffing
at the air. It didnt seem to like what it smelled. Then,
it saw something to the southwest. It did a little hop, causing
the ground to quake so roughly that Angela nearly lost her
It took off to the south, following
the lake shore road. Angela looked where the creature had.
From a distance, she could see part of the 520 floating bridge.
She activated her mic.
Dispatch, its heading for
Vance applied sunscreen liberally to
his head. Every time hed said something to Elaine about
getting plugs, shed run her fingers over his scalp and
said something about how sexy he was, ending the discussion,
at least until the next time some young punk of a clerk confused
him for Quince and Sarahs grandfather.
When do they start? Quince
I told you, itll be a while.
The broad span of I-90 was shut down
for the day. This served the dual purpose of avoiding gapers
block on the bridge during the races, and also allowing certain
ticket holders a place to park and watch the action. Vance
had thought hed brought the family terribly early. As
it turned out, hed been part of the main rush as hundreds
of vehicles were waved onto the bridge by uniformed attendants
and shown to their parking spots. Everyone left their cars
and wandered around the floating section of the bridge, enjoying
the water, the sun, the cool breeze, and even just the novelty
of strolling across the rough surface of an interstate freeway.
Vance kept a close watch on Sarah and
especially Quince. Those two could generate more trouble than
any five kids hed ever met before. He tried to be a
disciplinarian, but he knew in his heart that anything less
from them would have disappointed him. He was like that when
he was a kid, made trouble, caused his parents a certain amount
of stress, and hed turned out alright, hadnt he?
Daddy! Sarah called out.
Vance turned to the south to see if
the racers were doing a trial lap of the course. He couldnt
see anything more than hed seen when they first parked
a couple of hours ago.
No, Daddy! Sarah yanked
on his arm, pointing to the north. Lookit!
Sarah, the race is gonna be over
That wasnt her admonishing tone, or her sexy tone. That
was the tone shed used when Sarah stopped breathing
one horrifying night when she was seven months old. That was
the tone she used when Quince stumbled into the house, white-faced
and wide-eyed, one end of a croquet hoop plunged rudely into
his thigh. Vances blood went cold at the tone. He turned.
At first, it didnt make any sense.
They were looking across Lake Washington at the 520 bridge.
There was a truck on it.
No way! Quince shouted,
his small binoculars glued to his eyes. Vance raised his own
binoculars and looked closer.
That was no truck. It was far too tall
to be a truck. For a few moments Vance simply watched, like
a theatergoer enjoying a particularly nifty bit of special
effects in a film. The thing, whatever it was, was so heavy
that the entire bridge was bobbing in the lake. Vance had
driven over that bridge a hundred times, sometimes in terrible
downpours with gale winds blowing, and it had never felt like
anything other than a solid span of concrete. Now, it was
rolling with sinusoidal waves caused by the mammoth beast
galloping down its length. He could see the water churning
underneath, spilling out across the lake, rolling in concert
with the motion of the bridge.
Dad, Quince said.
The thing slowed a bit as it reached
the middle of the bridge, where there were two slender walkways
that allowed maintenance personnel to get from one side to
the other without risking the always-busy roadway. The thing
butted its head up against the first walkway, once, twice.
On the third hit, the walkway shattered. The thing stepped
forward a few feet and repeated the action on the second walkway.
Then it started to run again.
Dad! Quince insisted.
The westernmost part of the bridge
wasnt floating, but elevated, complete with a high ironwork
structure over the lanes of traffic. The structure wasnt
tall enough to admit the gray creature, though. The thing
would have to batter it down. It didnt, though.
Its going to jump,
Dad, I need to talk to you!
The thing ran, hard and fast. The rolling,
bobbing motion of the floating sections of the bridge caused
a couple of them to crack, concrete and steel flying in the
things terrifying wake. It reached the upslope section
and put on even more speed.
Dont! Quince shouted.
The thing reached the top of the upslope
and instead of continuing forward, into the lattice of steel,
jinked to the left and leapt. High and far, massive front
legs reaching forward, smaller middle legs and smallest rear
legs pinwheeling behind.
Hes not gonna make it,
Hes gonna make it,
The thing smashed snout-first into
a ten-story block of condos right on the water. For a moment,
all they could see was smoke and dust and spray from where
chunks of the buildings face had sloughed off into the
lake. Everyone on the I-90 bridgenot just Vance and
his familyeveryone watched in hushed anticipation.
The dust began to clear and a large,
dark-snouted, gray head emerged from the rubble. It climbed
out of the pile of shattered brickwork and concrete, shook
off the dust, and trotted out of sight, into the city.
Vance, finally, turned to look down
at his son.
I have to tell you something.
Marion Atwater had overcome a whole
host of obstacles to become the mayor of Seattle. He was the
first black mayor in the citys history, which even in
this day and age was no small feat. He had come up, not through
the ranks of lawyers or self-made entrepreneurs, but as a
university professor at the Dub. Above all, he had done it
with the lame-ass name Marion.
It surprised him, when he started,
how little time he got to actually spend in the city he governed.
Visits to neighboring major cities, conferences, speeches,
fact-finding missions. There were times he resembled all those
virtual employees that infested the coffee shops and diners
and parks all over town. Virtual Mayor Atwater. Thats
what he felt like most of the time.
But today, today was different. Sea
Fair was an institution, one that pretty much every Seattleite
bought into in one way or another. He couldnt not
be in town this weekend. In fact, he was up in the citys
most enduring landmark, so retro it was cool again, the Space
Needle. Today he hosted a special luncheon. Half the observatory
level was cordoned off for the influential and powerful members
of Seattles elite to have a nice meal, while looking
out at the nearly cloudless and fantastically beautiful day.
As the host, Marion got to spend precious
little time eating, instead wandering from table to table
to shake hands and make small talk. He would never admit it
in an interview or even to his aides, but this was a part
of the job he actually liked. In a profession that was all
about people-people, Marion Atwater had perfected the skill
of small talk. More than one pundit commented on it, since
no one expected an English Lit professor to be able to connect
with anyone who hadnt written a scholarly treatise on
the works of James Joyce.
As chance would have it, Marion was
speaking with the man in the room when he was interrupted.
The not-quite-retired billionaire was nearing seventy but
still maintained a boyish nerd-charm, pulling Marion into
a fascinating discussion of the challenges of marketing his
companys software to the alien community.
Marion frowned and turned to Linus
Swindol, a short, heavyset, hirsute young man who was also
Marions chief assistant.
Yes, Linus, he said, his
eyes adding the addendum, and this better be important.
I think we should talk in private,
Linus added, his nervous glance at Gates not subtle in the
Ill let you guys get back
to work, Gates said. Well talk later.
He shook Marions hand and moved off to talk to his wife.
What is it? Marion snapped.
theres a dinosaur
loose in the city.
You interrupted me for a joke?
Linus strengthened his bear-strength grip and pulled Marion
away from the luncheon tables into a corner of the observatory
level, away from the windows. On the wall, a series of illustrations
compared the Needle to a number of other, much taller towers
around the world.
Ive gotten calls from the
police and fire departments of Seattle, Redmond and Kirkland.
No one knows what it is, but its big and its alien
and it just entered Seattle.
The 520 bridge
left of it.
Linus put up a hand. He tapped the
phone it his ear. Yeah
A tide of excited voices from the other
side of the room distracted Marion for a second. His instinctive
worry was that one of the kids at the party had ventured too
close to the railing outside and spooked his mom. Marion wasnt
really fond of heights. More shouts of alarm rose.
Come on! Linus shouted,
physically pulling Marion out to the windows. They faced north-west,
toward Capitol Hill.
What are we
didnt finish. He understood now. The dinosaurwhat
else could you call something that sizehad just crested
the hill. It dwarfed every other building in the vicinity,
except for St. Marks Cathedral a few blocks away. At
this distance it wasnt very clear what kind of damage
it was doing to buildings, streets, vehiclespeoplebut
it had to be tremendous.
me back. Linus ended his call.
What can we tell them?
Marion whispered into his aides ear as he eyed the crowd
Not much. We Linus
took another call. Marion really wanted to snatch that thing
out of his ear and throw it over the edge of the observation
Eyes turned to Marion. These werent
random people who had come in off the street to enjoy the
view. These were the most powerful players in the city, individuals
with nationwidein some cases globalinfluence.
They were watching a disaster unlike any in history unfold
directly below them, with their mayor standing right next
to them. Marion wondered if any politician had undergone scrutiny
quite like this. He took a deep breath.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am in
contact with local law enforcement. At this point, we are
monitoring the situation. When I know more, you will, too.
Please, stay calm.
That seemed to mollify most of them.
The colossus continued to crunch its way down the hill. Its
most obvious victims were trees; the usually green hill now
had a wide swath of gray-brown destruction sliding down from
the ridge. When the creature got to the steep cut in the hill
that fronted I-5, it paused, considering the situation. It
walked north and then south, bits of the concrete retaining
wall crumbling under its titanic feet.
Mayor, we just got a call from
a man who has information about the creature.
Marion moved back to Linus instantly.
What is it? Where did it come
away, clearly still talking on the little phone. He
claims that its his sons pet.
Pet? Thats a pet?
The thing finally decided to jump down,
immediately snarling traffic on the interstate in both directions.
It blithely disregarded the carswhy not, since it had
to be at least fifty feet tall and twice that in length.
Get them here. Now!
Theyre locked in over on
the I-90 bridge. Nothings moving. Traffics nearly
at a standstill on that side of the city.
We have helicopters, dont
Quince felt guilty, because hed
stolen Junior from his dad, and that wasnt right. He
was scared, because Junior was probably going to get killed.
(Hed seen Godzilla for the first time just last
month. The parallels werent lost on even his seven-year-old
mind.) But bubbling on top of all that was sheer excitement.
He and his dad were riding in a helicopter from the
bridgewhere they left Mom and Sarah behindover
to the city. He kept an eye peeled for Junior.
There he is! Dad called
out. Quince jumped out of his seat and climbed into the seat
behind his dad.
Quince! Dad scolded.
Im buckling in. They
were passing over Lake Union. Junior was right below them,
looking even bigger than before! He was walking up to the
lake shore, trampling a whole row of restaurants on the lakes
edge. He dipped his snout into the water.
Hes thirsty, Quince
Junior pulled his head back up and
sneezed out the water, sending the spray halfway across the
Guess he doesnt like it,
The helicopter landed in a parking
lot near the Space Needle. Quince had been up in there once,
when he was little. The elevator operator took him and his
dad and their police escorta big guy named Daveup
to the restaurant. Quince remembered that the restaurant usually
spins, but it was shut down for now. It was empty, except
for a couple of tables where some people were talking and
working on tablets. Quince and his dad went in and met the
mayor, Mr. Atwater.
Quince told his story. He said he was
sorry, but he didnt think Junior would hurt anyone.
From the frowns of all the adults in the room, he guessed
something bad had already happened. If Junior had killed someone,
it must have been an accident. He was so big now, it would
be easy for him to make a mistake like that.
The mayor turned to Dad.
Well, Mr. Almeda?
Dad leveled a glare at Quince. Quince
and I will be having a very long talk this evening.
Quince felt his face get hot with shame.
Laws have been broken,
Mr. Atwater said. Dad looked at him, surprised.
Hes only seven years old.
No, Mr. Almeda. Youre
the one Im talking about.
You imported a dangerous alien
animal into my city.
For a second Dad looked scared and
worried, even a little guilty. Then Quince watched as his
father stood a little straighter and looked Mr. Atwater right
in the eye.
I didnt break any laws
because there are no laws on this topic. I cant
import something from Canada or Japan or New Zealand. I researched
this, Mr. Mayor. Theres nothing on the books in Seattle
or in the state of Washington about alien importation.
Tacoma has talked about it, but nobody wants to legislate
the issue because theyre all too worried about missing
out on the next big thing. I brought in the creature
Junior, Quince prompted.
I brought in Junior for some
bioelectric research were doing at Microsoft. You cant
tell me you wouldnt want us to find a breakthrough.
It would mean money for the city.
The mayor looked angry. Your
boss is one floor up. You think hes going to be pleased
at what you did?
Leon Zucker is here?
No, Mr. Almeda. Im talking
about Bill Gates.
Dad paused, looked down at Quince, then back at Mayor Atwater.
Tell him. I dont care. I made a mistake, Ill
admit that. You pass the laws and well abide by them.
Until then, you cant think I could have foreseen something
Sir! A fat man, Mr. Swindol,
called over from his tablet. The mayor wanted to keep arguing,
but he had to stop to see what Mr. Swindol was looking at.
Quince and his dad followed. They gathered around the small
screen, which was showing a live newscast. Quince looked out
the window. He could see the helicopter hovering below and
he could see Juniors path in from Lake Union. The dual
tracks of the monorail were broken where Junior had passed
through. Quince couldnt get a view of what Junior was
doing right now, though, since he was right below them. He
turned back to the tablet to see what the news chopper saw.
Five hundred feet below, Junior lumbered
up to the base of the Space Needle. His front hooves left
holes in the valet driveway big enough to park a car in. He
craned his head up to get a look at the tower above. He sniffed
at the base, his snout brushing up against the gift shop,
cracking several windows. Then he moved closer and started
to rub his shoulder against the flared base of the tower.
Its trying to knock us
down! Mr. Swindol shouted. They could feel the vibrations
all the way up here.
Hes just scratching himself,
Quince said. After a few moments Junior turned around and
scratched his other side. Hes not a bad guy, Mr.
Swindol. Hes just an animal.
What does it want? Mr.
Swindol asked. No one had an answer to that.
How big is it now? the
mayor asked. Mr. Swindol made a call to somebody to find out.
The mayor turned to Dad. We need
I understand, Dad said.
But I dont know what I can do.
Where did you get it?
The Cancer Snake? the mayor
Yeah, Quince said. I
saw him at our house. Dad put a hand on Quinces
shoulder, not even realizing he was doing it. At least Dad
wasnt really mad at him.
He told me the species was adept
at energy conversion, that it wasnt sentient, that it
came from a red giant system. Thats all I know.
The National Guard is on its
way. Is there any reason to think we cant kill it with
What? Quince shouted. You
cant kill him!
Dads grip on Quinces shoulder
tightened. Quince, this is serious. Junior has already
hurt people and done a lot of damage. We cant just
let him roam free.
Mr. Swindol came back over. Sir,
the police have been reviewing video footage of the creature.
I think we know why its growing. It seems to only grow
when its in full sunlight.
There were two intervals when
clouds shadowed it from the sun, once for sixty seconds, another
for nearly three minutes. During those periods, the creature
did not get noticeably bigger.
It didnt shrink, either,
the mayor snapped.
That makes sense, Dad said.
If the creature feeds off of sunlight, it would have
adapted to a lower luminosity star back home. Our sun is overfeeding
it, so its growing at a much faster rate.
You had to let it loose in the
summer, the mayor muttered. For a second everyone was
quiet, no one laughing at the thin joke. Well,
the mayor continued, we cant turn off the sun.
Could we shade him in some way?
I dont see how, the
We should paint him, Quince
Yeah. Cover up his skin. Then
the sun wouldnt hit it. The adults all stared
at him. Hes probably hot anyway. He might like
Mayor Atwater ruffled Quinces
hair. Youve got quite a kid there, he said.
Linus, get the Fire Department. Theyve got to
be able to fill up one of their engines with something we
can use to cover Juniors skin.
He leaned over to Mr. Swindol, whispering
intensely. Quince heard him anyway. Keep the Guard coming,
Everyone jumped when they heard a whistling,
whooshing sound. Out the window, two bright blue jets flew
past the Needle. They went right over Junior, who was sauntering
down Denny toward the waterfront and Elliot Bay. There were
still a lot of cars on the street that Junior was crushing
flat. Many people had tried to turn onto side streets, or
simply abandoned their cars to the beasts advance. Two
more news helicopters had joined the first, buzzing around
Junior like flies. After the pass from the jets, the helicopters
but not too far.
What the hell was that?
Mr. Atwater asked.
I think that was the Blue Angels.
Theyre here for Sea Fair.
I know who they are! What are
they doing here?
The planes split up over the bay. One
swung out to the north. The other did a tight, looping turn
over the shipyards and headed back to the city, right toward
Junior. He looked up, distracted from his journey down the
street by the brightly colored plane. The jet streaked past,
Juniors head whipping side to side to watch it.
Why dont they fire at it?
Mr. Swindol asked.
Fire at him? Quince asked,
The other blue plane buzzed Junior,
this time from north to south.
Those are demonstration aircraft,
Linus, Mr. Atwater explained. They dont
have any live ammunition.
While Junior was still watching the
second plane fly away, a missile slammed into his left shoulder,
exploding. Junior was about seventy feet tall by now, so the
attack didnt kill him. It didnt even knock him
down, but he did stumble, sidestepping into a construction
site, destroying half of the naked steel framework of an unfinished
building. He howled so loudly they heard him through the glass.
Everyone in the restaurant turned and
looked to the east. An Apache helicopter was hovering over
the parking lot across the street. Two more were coming in
over the ridge from Lake Washington.
Junior turned south and started to
run down the street. Spurred by fear and pain, he didnt
weave so carefully through the buildings. He smashed his way
through Belltown, trampling everything in his path.
Call them off! the mayor
Its the Air Force!
Mr. Swindol said. I cant call them off!
The Army, Dad corrected.
I dont care who they are!
Theyre just making him mad! We have to call them off!
Junior ran south east along Second
Avenue, away from the Space Needle. Quince used his binoculars
to get a better look. It seemed like the ugly wound on Juniors
shoulder was healing really fast. Before he could be sure,
Juniors path took him behind some tall buildings. Quince
had to go back to the tablet screen to watch the KOMO 4 news.
We have to kill it, Mr. Mayor.
How else to do you think were going to do that?
How many more people are
we going to kill in the process?
One of the other helicopters swept
around downtown to the south and shot another missile at Junior.
This time he saw it coming and tried to roll out of the way,
entirely demolishing a twelve-story office building. Two of
the news choppers took that as their cue to fly higher and
watch the attack from a safer distance. The KOMO chopper stayed
low, searching the billowing wreckage for signs of Junior.
I can talk to him! Quince
said. He knows me. I can calm him down.
Quince, his dad cautioned.
Young man, the mayor said,
I am not letting you within a hundred yards of that
thing. Its not safe, not anymore.
He is safe! Hes just scared.
That doesnt matter.
Junior wrestled his way out of the
rubble of the apartment building and barreled toward the water.
Quince remembered seeing Junior jump from the 520 bridge all
the way to the shore. He didnt like the water.
The third Apache, hovering over the
city, took aim from point blank range and fired at Junior.
This missile hit him squarely on the rump, the explosion pushing
him forward, across a block of shops and directly onto a wide
pier at the waterfront. Now Quince could see what was happening
through the window.
Junior! Quince called out.
Junior tried to regain his feet on
the concrete pier. The structure beneath him couldnt
stand the strain of his enormous weight. It shuddered, cracked,
then quickly imploded, dropping Junior into the deep waters
of the bay. Junior slipped away beneath the dust clouded water.
Quince began to cry. It was just like Godzilla. They killed
him. They didnt have to kill him.
Dad picked Quince up and hugged him
Im sorry, son.
Quince cried and cried.
Marion didnt have the heart to
kick the Almedas out of the restaurant. He continued to coordinate
with the police and with the militarywho had finally
returned his calls. The Navy said they were sending divers
into the bay to confirm the kill.
There was also the terrible damage
done to the city, much of which he could survey from right
here. Initial estimates put the physical damageto various
roads, bridges, buildings, and the new seawallat nearly
two billion dollars. And then, there was the human cost. At
least seventy-five people had died. He knew more would be
uncovered in smaller buildings that the beast had destroyed
along the way. His very inappropriate reaction was relief.
It could have been far worse. He had said as much a few minutes
ago when he went to update the bigwigs who still milled about
on the Observatory Level, upstairs.
Oh, dear God. Marion looked
up to see Linus staring out the window. Had more of the waterfront
collapsed? Was a fire raging through Belltown? Marion hurried
to the window.
Out in the middle of the bay, a round
shape bobbed in the water. It disappeared, then bobbed up
again. A familiar snout poked out of the water, blew a stream
into the air, then dove again.
Hes still alive?
The Almeda boy heard that and immediately
ran to his side.
Im calling the Navy,
Linus said. They have to have a submarine in the area.
Quince looked up at Marion, his eyes
still red from tears. Marion imagined in that moment that
he would regret his next words, maybe for the rest of his
lifehis political life, anyway.
Is he bigger?
Is the creature any bigger than
he was when he fell into the bay? It was nearly an hour ago.
Just find out!
Hes not in the sun,
the child said. Hes not going to get bigger. Hes
not going to hurt anyone.
Hes already hurt a lot
of people, Marion said.
There arent people in the
water, the boy argued. Marion had to laugh a
little at a childs strange sense of logic.
They say, Linus said, that
he hasnt grown
yet. But we have to take
care of this. He could damage shipping vessels, pleasure craft,
ferries. He could walk back up onto land at any time.
Mr. Almeda joined them. The creature
spent the entire day looking for water. He didnt like
Lake Washington or Lake Union, probably because of the lack
You have got to be kidding me,
Linus spouted. We cant just
let it swim
around out there!
Okay, then how about this,
Marion said. Weve seen red tides caused by a single
dead whale. That is ten times larger than a whale, and its
got God only knows what kind of biological chemistry. If we
kill it, we could be creating a toxic hazard of immense proportions.
At the very least, we would have to wait for it to move out
into the Sound.
Linus with a look.
Notify the Navy, Marion
Tell them they need to help us
keep an eye on him. Marion looked down at Quince again.
If he causes more trouble, we will have to put him down.
He wont! I swear!
I hope youre right. I really
And he was. Weeks of careful scrutiny
showed Junior to be interested in nothing but swimming peacefully
around the waters of Puget Sound. He stayed beneath the waves
and didnt grow, at least not that anyone could tell,
and he never tried to get back onto shore. He stayed comfortably
far away from the shallows.
The political firestorm that followed
was bizarre and intense. Half the people complained that the
city wasnt prepared for the disaster, and the other
half complained that the response was too extreme. (This was
Seattle, after all.) The families of the hundred seventy-one
victims of Juniors rampage sued everyone: the city,
the state, the federal government, even Microsoft. They won
every case, except the one against Microsoft. (Microsofts
attorneys were better than the governments.) In the
wake of these lawsuits, laws with strict language about importation
of biological material from off world hit the books in Tacoma.
Most other states followed suit the following year.
A larger, cultural battle waged on
the internet over the incident. Proponents of destroying the
beast proudly posted their video clips and pictures of the
devastation to Seattle. Juniors defenders did the same
with the footage of the missile strikes and Juniors
playful antics in the bay. Some pundits claimed this was a
referendum on human-alien relations. Would humanity give in
to xenophobia and execute a guileless animal? Or would they
ignore a proven threat to their continued safety and allow
it to attack again? The relentless engine of the online media
churned and churned over the debate for months on end.
The federal governmentparticularly
the militaryquietly decided to table the issue until
there were further developments. They had seen Juniors
remarkable healing ability first-hand. They were concerned
that perhaps nothing but a direct nuclear strike could actually
kill him. They were unprepared to deal with either failure
And so, Junior was left to swim where
Sarah ran up and down the strip of
grass between the parking lot and the rocky beach. Her robot
dogwhich shed named Billfollowed her, yapping
in his tinny, electronic voice.
Five minutes, Pumpkin,
Dad called out to her. To Sarah, five minutes was an eternity
of playing with her dog. To Quince, five minutes would be
gone in an instant. He continued to sweep the water with Dads
binoculars. Dad came up and stood next to him.
Hes probably way out in
Uh-huh. Quince kept searching.
Son, you cant say goodbye
to him. Hed have to come up on shore. You know he shouldnt
Dad was quiet for a second, then he
walked off to talk to Mom. They packed up the stuff from their
picnic. Mom went over to get Sarah. Dad stayed by the car,
waiting for Quince.
The water slapped softly onto the rocks,
so blue it looked like it had been painted. Quince watched
and waited, knowing deep down that someday hed see a
dark nose poke out of the water and a big, dark eye look his
way and seem to say, Thanks.