by Russell Lutz

An excerpt from
The Department of Off World Affairs.

D I S C U S S I O N  F O R U M  |  R E T U R N  T O  S T  O N L I N E





...very little indeed is necessary for living a happy life.
—Meditations, VII, 67


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 wasn’t 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 he’d watch an old movie on TV and there’d be fake aliens, he’d laugh at how silly they looked, since he knew—from the cards—what real aliens looked like.

Even so, he’d 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 sisters?”

“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 wasn’t going to spend good money on something that would poop all over his house. Even after Quince’s heartfelt and entirely sincere insistence that he would totally take care of a pet—he wanted a dog—his dad didn’t budge. A half-hearted attempt to get his sister, Sarah, and his mom on his side of the issue didn’t help either. His mom didn’t 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 dad’s 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.

“Dad’s got a meeting,” Quince observed.

“What’s that?” Sarah asked, kicking the back of Quince’s seat as she did so.

“Quit it!” he yelled at her. “Dad’s talking to someone from work.”

“You both need to stay out of Daddy’s 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 dad’s study. The door was delightfully ajar and Quince peeked in. Dad was talking with a Snake.

“—the properties you’re looking for,” the Snake said. He sounded like he was from another country.

“Look, I’m not paying good money for this unless I know it’ll 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 mass transference.”

Quince didn’t know what they were talking about. He was more interested in watching the Snake. The alien’s 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 box.

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. “It’s been a pleasure, Mr. Almeda.” The Snake slithered out of the chair as Quince’s dad got up from behind his desk. Quince scampered away from the door and ran up the steps far enough to hide from Dad’s 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 Mom’s voice.

“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 steps—careful not to make any sound—and 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 don’t like beets.” Dad’s voice wafted in through the open door.

“It’s 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 floor.

“Can’t I have a salad just once in a while?”

“You want me to spend good money on salad ingredients when you’re the only one who—”

“Don’t 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.



“Don’t go into my study when I’m not there. You know better than that.”

“I wasn’t,” 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 wasn’t 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 creature’s 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. “I’ll 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 mad.

“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 the room.

“Where are you?” he whispered.

An answering clatter came from inside his closet. The light in there was already on—a bad habit that his father had little success breaking him of—but 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 Quince’s 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. Junior’s legs were kind of like a pig’s, 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 Quince’s 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, they’ll 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 Quentin’s hand somberly.

“I smell okay?”

Apparently, he did. Junior rubbed his wet nose against Quince’s 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 something.

“You are so cool!” Quince concluded.


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 can’t go outside yet. I’ll try to take you out this afternoon after school. Okay?”

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 he’d take him down to the park. He hoped Junior would get along okay with the dogs in the park.

Dad’s voice intruded on his planning. “Quince! Sarah! Up and at ’em!”

Quince set about getting ready for school.


They almost didn’t 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 didn’t 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. It’s an alien pet.”

“No way!”

“I call him Junior. He grew really fast. He’s about this big.” Quince held out his hands.

“Can I see him?”

“Can you come over to play after school today?”

Barry’s face fell. “I can’t. We’re going out to the mountains this weekend.”

“You can see him when you get back.”



The day dragged like no other in Quince’s memory. He realized he hadn’t fed Junior. The little guy had grown from seed-sized to where he was without eating anything. He was an alien. Maybe he didn’t have to eat at all? That’d 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.

“Yes, Quince?”

“Do all aliens eat?”

“Do all aliens eat what?”

“Do they all have to eat food?”

“I think they do.”

“Oh. Okay.”

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 couldn’t do anything to help him!


Quince prayed that his mother would be there to pick them up on time. She wasn’t usually late, but it had happened a couple of times. Quince prayed that she wouldn’t have some kind of errand to run on the way home. That was more common, but today, amazingly, luck was on Quince’s side. Mom drove him and his sister straight home.

Quince hit the front door at a run.

“You want a snack?” his mom called after him.

“No, thanks!”

Quince entered his room, worried that he’d find Junior sick, or dying, or maybe even dead. He really didn’t want Junior to die.

Junior wasn’t dead. Junior was doing great. He had figured out how to pull open Quince’s dresser drawers and had pulled out all of Quince’s clothes. He had yanked all the blankets and sheets and pillows off Quince’s 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 Quince’s 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 couldn’t fit Junior into his backpack now. It’d 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. I’ll 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 didn’t want a snack,” his mom called from the dining room, where she was working on her laptop.

“I’m 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 along—Junior didn’t have a mouth. Under his snout, where a pig’s mouth would be, was just smooth, solid flesh. He looked all over Junior’s 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.

“You’re kind of weird, aren’t you?”

Junior responded by jumping onto Quince’s lap and pushing his forelegs onto Quince’s 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, what’s the big surprise, Dad?” Mom asked.

He held up four tickets and handed one to Mom. Mom laughed. “You’re kidding?”

“What?” Quince asked. He took his ticket from Dad. It was for something called the Chevrolet Cup. “What’s that?” Quince asked.

“It’s the hydroplane races. Out on Lake Washington. We’ve got a spot right on the I-90 bridge. We’re 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 evening—after another interminable dinner—in 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 Vampire—two of Quince’s favorites from his card collection—then that Snake wouldn’t have sold the little baby Juniors to his dad. That’d be wrong.

And anyway, since Junior didn’t have a mouth, how could he talk? Some aliens had strange ways of talking, like Rope Men and Skeletons, but Junior hadn’t even tried to talk. Well, he was just a baby, though. Maybe he’d talk some later? That’d be really cool.

A knock at the door startled Quince. Junior snuffled. Quince shushed him, then led him into the closet.

“Yeah, Dad?” Dad opened the door and looked in.

“Quince, we’re 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.”

“I’m gonna.”

“We’re leaving at eight sharp tomorrow.”


“You still have that Mariners cap I got you?”

“Uh…” 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.”

“You’re gonna need it tomorrow. It’s 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 hadn’t figured out what Junior ate, so he snuck a box of cereal up to his room for him. Junior didn’t 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 the Volvo.

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. He’d 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 didn’t feel emotions like that.

Virgil’s annoyance with the Almedas was aggravated—or perhaps even caused—by 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 room—which Virgil had never been invited to see, incidentally—featured 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 lawn.

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 hose.

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 didn’t disappear entirely. He thought it was coming from the Almedas’… Strange.

There was someone moving around in their house. Virgil took a few steps across his dry grass. He couldn’t 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 few—

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 wasn’t 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 Virgil’s 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 Virgil’s lawn on either side of his head. The other four legs straddled his body. A wet, noisy nest of wavy flesh—the creature’s nose?—lowered to Virgil’s face. Sniff. Sniff.

“Please…” Virgil whimpered.

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 hadn’t 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 home’s 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. I’m traveling north on 148th Avenue. Over.” She followed procedure, even when the dispatchers didn’t.

“Yeah, we got a call that there’s a rhinoceros on Redmond Way, headed for Kirkland. Are you close to there?”

“Roger.” A rhinoceros? Must be some kid tripping. She’d 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 her mic.

“Dispatch, this is Bravo Six Zero. I’m at Redmond Way. I don’t…”

Her voice trailed away in a very unprofessional way.

“Slagle? You there?”

Two SUVs and a man on a motorcycle blew past Angela’s 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 didn’t look like a rhinoceros to Angela. It looked like a dump truck. A big dump truck. This thing didn’t 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 hadn’t finished its impromptu u-turn quite fast enough. The car’s air bags deployed as it flew five feet and crunched into a stalled Honda.

“Dispatch, I’m 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 passing animal.

“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. “It’s an animal, six legs, at least ten feet tall.” The beast’s rounded back brushed up against a hanging traffic light as it moved through another intersection. “Make that twelve.”

According to her speedometer, she—and the beast—were doing between forty and sixty miles per hour. This section of the street was marked by sweeping curves. She saw the creature’s 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 beast’s light gray hide in striped shadows.

“Approaching the 405 interchange. Please advise, have Kirkland police been notified?”

“Yeah, we’re working on that.”

Angela muttered something really unprofessional under her breath.

At the 124th Ave intersection, the monster didn’t 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 couldn’t 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 cars—which would have meant instant death for most of their occupants—it lowered its snout near to the asphalt.

The closest car in the left lane, a Porsche—thankfully one with a hard top—took the brunt of the creature’s 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 monster’s huge snout. It was now locked in an awkward embrace with the Ford. Both cars—which looked less and less like vehicles each moment—launched 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 he’d 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 couldn’t 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.

“He’s past the interchange and still traveling west.”

“Kirkland Police are on their way.”

I know, Angela didn’t say. She could see down 5th Avenue—the 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 wasn’t 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?”

“I’m not talking about a beard! It’s getting bigger. It’s twice the size it was when I first saw it!”

“Uh, yeah. Okay.”

Angela growled into the mic in response. She wasn’t 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 cars—and one bus—aside as it went, but it was down to a sedate forty mph. Then thirty.

“Dispatch, the thing is slowing down.”

“It’s not growing as fast?” She swore she heard laughter on the other end of the radio.

“It’s slowing down. Moving slower.”

In the heart of the Kirkland shopping district, the beast couldn’t 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 weapon.

“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 didn’t know if the creature knew English. It was an alien, after all.

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 didn’t 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.

“Uh…” Her training fled. Really, what training did she have that could contend with that? “Uh…” 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 didn’t 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 feet.

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, it’s heading for Seattle.”


Vance applied sunscreen liberally to his head. Every time he’d said something to Elaine about getting plugs, she’d 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 Sarah’s grandfather.

“When do they start?” Quince asked.

“I told you, it’ll be a while.”

The broad span of I-90 was shut down for the day. This served the dual purpose of avoiding gaper’s block on the bridge during the races, and also allowing certain ticket holders a place to park and watch the action. Vance had thought he’d brought the family terribly early. As it turned out, he’d 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 he’d 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 he’d turned out alright, hadn’t he?

“Daddy!” Sarah called out. “Look!”

Vance turned to the south to see if the racers were doing a trial lap of the course. He couldn’t see anything more than he’d 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 here.”

“Vance…” Elaine said. That wasn’t her admonishing tone, or her sexy tone. That was the tone she’d 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. Vance’s blood went cold at the tone. He turned.

At first, it didn’t 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 wasn’t floating, but elevated, complete with a high ironwork structure over the lanes of traffic. The structure wasn’t tall enough to admit the gray creature, though. The thing would have to batter it down. It didn’t, though.

“It’s going to jump,” Vance muttered.

“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 thing’s terrifying wake. It reached the upslope section and put on even more speed.


“Don’t!” 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.

“He’s not gonna make it,” Quince warned.

“He’s gonna make it,” Vance said.

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 building’s face had sloughed off into the lake. Everyone on the I-90 bridge—not just Vance and his family—everyone 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 city’s 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. That’s 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 couldn’t not be in town this weekend. In fact, he was up in the city’s 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 Seattle’s 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 hadn’t 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 company’s software to the alien community.


Marion frowned and turned to Linus Swindol, a short, heavyset, hirsute young man who was also Marion’s 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 least.

“I’ll let you guys get back to work,” Gates said. “We’ll talk later.” He shook Marion’s hand and moved off to talk to his wife.

“What is it?” Marion snapped.

“Uh… there’s 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.

“I’ve gotten calls from the police and fire departments of Seattle, Redmond and Kirkland. No one knows what it is, but it’s big and it’s alien and it just entered Seattle.”

“From where?”

“The 520 bridge… or what’s left of it.”

“But they—”

Linus put up a hand. He tapped the phone it his ear. “Yeah… Yeah… Oh, God!”


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 wasn’t 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…?” Marion didn’t finish. He understood now. The dinosaur—what else could you call something that size—had just crested the hill. It dwarfed every other building in the vicinity, except for St. Mark’s Cathedral a few blocks away. At this distance it wasn’t very clear what kind of damage it was doing to buildings, streets, vehicles—people—but it had to be tremendous.

“Right… Right… Call me back.” Linus ended his call.

“What can we tell them?” Marion whispered into his aide’s ear as he eyed the crowd around them.

“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 balcony.

Eyes turned to Marion. These weren’t random people who had come in off the street to enjoy the view. These were the most powerful players in the city, individuals with nationwide—in some cases global—influence. 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 from?”

“He claims…” Linus looked away, clearly still talking on the little phone. “He claims that it’s his son’s pet.”

“Pet? That’s a pet?”

The thing finally decided to jump down, immediately snarling traffic on the interstate in both directions. It blithely disregarded the cars—why not, since it had to be at least fifty feet tall and twice that in length.

“Get them here. Now!”

“They’re locked in over on the I-90 bridge. Nothing’s moving. Traffic’s nearly at a standstill on that side of the city.”

“We have helicopters, don’t we?”


Quince felt guilty, because he’d stolen Junior from his dad, and that wasn’t right. He was scared, because Junior was probably going to get killed. (He’d seen Godzilla for the first time just last month. The parallels weren’t 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 bridge—where they left Mom and Sarah behind—over 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.

“I’m 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 lake’s edge. He dipped his snout into the water.

“He’s thirsty,” Quince said.

Junior pulled his head back up and sneezed out the water, sending the spray halfway across the lake.

“Guess he doesn’t like it,” Dad said.

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 escort—a big guy named Dave—up 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 didn’t 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.

“He’s only seven years old.”

“No, Mr. Almeda. You’re the one I’m 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 didn’t break any laws because there are no laws on this topic. I can’t import something from Canada or Japan or New Zealand. I researched this, Mr. Mayor. There’s 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 they’re 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 we’re doing at Microsoft. You can’t tell me you wouldn’t 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 he’s going to be pleased at what you did?”

“Leon Zucker is here?”

“No, Mr. Almeda. I’m talking about Bill Gates.”

“Oh… Oh…” Dad paused, looked down at Quince, then back at Mayor Atwater. “Tell him. I don’t care. I made a mistake, I’ll admit that. You pass the laws and we’ll abide by them. Until then, you can’t think I could have foreseen something like this.”


“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 Junior’s path in from Lake Union. The dual tracks of the monorail were broken where Junior had passed through. Quince couldn’t 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.

“It’s trying to knock us down!” Mr. Swindol shouted. They could feel the vibrations all the way up here.

“He’s just scratching himself,” Quince said. After a few moments Junior turned around and scratched his other side. “He’s not a bad guy, Mr. Swindol. He’s 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 your help.”

“I understand,” Dad said. “But I don’t know what I can do.”

“Where did you get it?”

“From Sylvester.”

“The Cancer Snake?” the mayor asked.

“Yeah,” Quince said. “I saw him at our house.” Dad put a hand on Quince’s shoulder, not even realizing he was doing it. At least Dad wasn’t really mad at him.

“He told me the species was adept at energy conversion, that it wasn’t sentient, that it came from a red giant system. That’s all I know.”

“The National Guard is on its way. Is there any reason to think we can’t kill it with conventional weapons?”

“What?” Quince shouted. “You can’t kill him!”

Dad’s grip on Quince’s shoulder tightened. “Quince, this is serious. Junior has already hurt people and done a lot of damage. We can’t just… let him roam free.”

“Why not?”

Mr. Swindol came back over. “Sir, the police have been reviewing video footage of the creature. I think we know why it’s growing. It seems to only grow when it’s 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 didn’t 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 it’s 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 can’t turn off the sun.”

“Could we shade him in some way?” Dad asked.

“I don’t see how,” the mayor admitted.

“We should paint him,” Quince said.

“Paint him?”

“Yeah. Cover up his skin. Then the sun wouldn’t hit it.” The adults all stared at him. “He’s probably hot anyway. He might like it.”

Mayor Atwater ruffled Quince’s hair. “You’ve got quite a kid there,” he said. “Linus, get the Fire Department. They’ve got to be able to fill up one of their engines with something we can use to cover Junior’s skin.”

“But, sir!”

He leaned over to Mr. Swindol, whispering intensely. Quince heard him anyway. “Keep the Guard coming, too.”

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 beast’s advance. Two more news helicopters had joined the first, buzzing around Junior like flies. After the pass from the jets, the helicopters pulled away… but not too far.

“What the hell was that?” Mr. Atwater asked.

“I think that was the Blue Angels. They’re 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, Junior’s head whipping side to side to watch it.

“Why don’t they fire at it?” Mr. Swindol asked.

“Fire at him?” Quince asked, horrified.

The other blue plane buzzed Junior, this time from north to south.

“Those are demonstration aircraft, Linus,” Mr. Atwater explained. “They don’t 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 didn’t kill him. It didn’t 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 didn’t weave so carefully through the buildings. He smashed his way through Belltown, trampling everything in his path.

“Call them off!” the mayor shouted.

“It’s the Air Force!” Mr. Swindol said. “I can’t call them off!”

“The Army,” Dad corrected.

“I don’t care who they are! They’re 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 Junior’s shoulder was healing really fast. Before he could be sure, Junior’s 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 we’re 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. It’s not safe, not anymore.”

“He is safe! He’s just scared.”

“That doesn’t 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 didn’t 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 couldn’t 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 didn’t have to kill him.

Dad picked Quince up and hugged him close.

“I’m sorry, son.”

Quince cried and cried.


Marion didn’t have the heart to kick the Almedas out of the restaurant. He continued to coordinate with the police and with the military—who 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 damage—to various roads, bridges, buildings, and the new seawall—at 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.

“He’s still alive?”

The Almeda boy heard that and immediately ran to his side.


“I’m 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 life—his political life, anyway.

“Linus, wait.”

“For what?”

“Is he bigger?”


“Is the creature any bigger than he was when he fell into the bay? It was nearly an hour ago.”

“I don’t… What?”

“Just find out!”

“He’s not in the sun,” the child said. “He’s not going to get bigger. He’s not going to hurt anyone.”

“He’s already hurt a lot of people,” Marion said.

“There aren’t people in the water,” the boy argued. Marion had to laugh a little at a child’s strange sense of logic.

“They say,” Linus said, “that he hasn’t 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 didn’t like Lake Washington or Lake Union, probably because of the lack of salt.”

“You have got to be kidding me,” Linus spouted. “We can’t just… let it swim around out there!”

“Okay, then how about this,” Marion said. “We’ve seen red tides caused by a single dead whale. That is ten times larger than a whale, and it’s 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.”

“You…” Marion silenced Linus with a look.

“Notify the Navy,” Marion said.

“But…” Quince protested.

“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 won’t! I swear!”

“I hope you’re right. I really do.”


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 didn’t 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 wasn’t 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 Junior’s rampage sued everyone: the city, the state, the federal government, even Microsoft. They won every case, except the one against Microsoft. (Microsoft’s attorneys were better than the government’s.) 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. Junior’s defenders did the same with the footage of the missile strikes and Junior’s 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 government—particularly the military—quietly decided to table the issue until there were further developments. They had seen Junior’s 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 or success.

And so, Junior was left to swim where he would.


Sarah ran up and down the strip of grass between the parking lot and the rocky beach. Her robot dog—which she’d named Bill—followed 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 Dad’s binoculars. Dad came up and stood next to him.

“He’s probably way out in the Sound.”

“Uh-huh.” Quince kept searching.

“Son, you can’t say goodbye to him. He’d have to come up on shore. You know he shouldn’t do that.”

“I know.”

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 he’d see a dark nose poke out of the water and a big, dark eye look his way and seem to say, “Thanks.”





Copyright © 2008 Russell Lutz

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

Russell Lutz began his publishing career in the 2000s with several short stories, among them "Fall", which won the Best Short Story award in 2005 from SFFWorld.com. "Athens 3004" was part of the anthology volume Silverthought: Ignition in the same year.

He published his first novel, Iota Cycle, in 2006. The tale of interstellar colonization won the DIY Festival award for Best Science Fiction Novel, and a New York Book Festival Honorable Mention for Science Fiction.

Lutz lives and works in Seattle.

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