EXTRATERRESTRIAL MOVIE NIGHT
Earth year 2041
Lunar day 216
If I hadn’t made the mistake of showing Star Wars to an alien life form, I never would have ended up fighting Patton Sjoberg with the space toilet.
But then, being friends with an alien had been one problem after another. It was far more difficult than I had ever imagined. For starters, there was no end of things I had to explain.
Every single aspect of my life was strange and unusual to Zan Perfonic. She wanted to know the reasons for everything I did. But it turns out, there’s not much reason behind half the things we humans do.
For example, blessing someone after they sneeze.
One day, Zan overheard me do this for my sister, and later she asked why I’d said it.
I had to think for a moment before admitting, “I have no idea. It’s just something we humans do. It’s supposed to be good manners.”
“Like when you use napkins to blot partially eaten food off your faces?”
“What does ‘bless you’ mean?”
“Um . . . that you want good things to happen for someone. I think.”
“So every time someone involuntarily blasts snot out of their nose, you humans tell them you want good things to happen to them?”
“Er . . . yes.”
“Do you say ‘bless you’ for other involuntary actions? Like when someone burps?”
“I guess because farting is considered rude.”
“And yet, is also considered funny?”
“Not by everyone.”
“Your sister seems to think it’s funny.”
“Well, she’s six.”
“Your father does too. He’s not six.”
“So why do some people find involuntary emissions of noxious gases from their rectums funny while other people find it rude?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think it has something to do with the sound?”
It went on like that for twenty minutes, with Zan asking me to try to explain everything from whoopee cushions to “pull my finger” until I was mentally exhausted. For this reason, I’d taken to showing Zan movies whenever I could. They made life easier. I’d used them to help explain everything from dinosaurs to World War II to professional sports.
I know I sound like a crazy person with all this talking-to-an-alien stuff. Like the kind of lunatic who stumbles through the streets babbling gibberish and wearing a tinfoil hat.
But I’m not crazy. My name’s Dashiell Gibson and I’m a totally sane twelve-year-old boy who happens to live on the moon. You’ve probably heard of me. All of us up here are pretty famous, seeing as we’re the first families to colonize someplace that isn’t earth. There’s so much coverage of us down there, you might think you know everything about us.
But you don’t. You only know what the government wants you to know. And a lot of that is lies. Like when you hear that Moon Base Alpha is a really amazing, incredible place? Or that we’re all getting along great up here and having the time of our lives? That’s all a big, steaming pile of garbage.
Plus, there are things we all keep to ourselves. Like being in contact with aliens from the planet Bosco.
Zan’s planet wasn’t really called Bosco. But I couldn’t pronounce its real name. When Zan said it in her native language, it sounded like a bunch of dolphins who’d sucked the helium out of a Macy’s balloon. It was so high-pitched it made my ears hurt. So we went with “Bosco” instead.
No one else at MBA knew I was in contact with Zan. I was the only one who could see her. Or hear her. Or speak to her.
There was a perfectly good reason for this: Zan wasn’t really there. You see, her species hadn’t mastered interstellar travel yet. (Not that we humans have come anywhere close to figuring it out ourselves.) Zan’s species had found a shortcut, though. They could think themselves to other places.
I had no idea how it worked. Zan had been doing her best to explain it to me, and it always left me feeling like I was an idiot. But then, even Albert Einstein would have looked like an idiot to Zan.
The point being, I wasn’t really seeing Zan with my eyes. Instead she was connecting directly with my mind, inserting herself into my thoughts. I didn’t even see the real Zan. Instead I saw an image of her that she wanted me to see: a beautiful, dark-haired thirty-year-old female human with startlingly blue eyes. In truth, I didn’t know what Zan really looked like, because she hadn’t shown me yet.
Communicating with Zan wasn’t actually that difficult. She had learned English and could speak it better than half the humans I’d met. The hard part was that she insisted our friendship remain a secret. However, she had a very good reason for this:
Zan had befriended only one human before me, Dr. Ronald Holtz, who had been the doctor at Moon Base Alpha. Dr. Holtz had wanted to reveal Zan’s existence to all humanity, but he never got the chance. Because the second person who learned about Zan was another Moonie named Garth Grisan, a whacked-out, ultra-paranoid spy for the military who believed humanity wasn’t ready to learn we’re not alone in the universe. Garth killed Dr. Holtz to keep the secret safe, but he made it look like an accident. I’d figured it out with Zan’s help, though, and Garth had been shipped back to earth to stand trial for murder.
So Zan wasn’t in any rush to reveal her existence this time. I understood. Frankly, I was surprised she was willing to give humanity another try. And it was absolutely thrilling to get to talk to an alien.
It just wasn’t easy.
Maybe things wouldn’t have been so much trouble if I still lived on earth. Back there, if I wanted to spend some private time with Zan, I could simply go to my room and lock the door. But on the moon, I don’t have my own room. I share a cramped one-room residence with my parents and my little sister, Violet, and my “bedroom” is a niche built into the wall. On earth, I could go for a walk around the neighborhood. On the moon, I can’t. I’m not allowed outside, because I could die out there. On earth, there were a million places I could go to be by myself. On the moon, there are none. I have no privacy whatsoever. There are security cameras everywhere, half the base is off-limits to me, and even the bathrooms are communal.
So, basically, the only way I could spend any serious time with Zan was late at night, after everyone else had gone to bed.
The night I showed her Star Wars, it was well after dinnertime. Mom and Dad had already tucked Violet into bed for the night and were playing chess in our room, while all the other Moonies seemed to be settling down in their residences as well. I wasn’t trying to explain anything to Zan by showing her the movie. I had simply referenced it so much, she demanded to see it.
It was hard to talk about life in space without talking about Star Wars. Or Star Trek. Or any other space movies. Because space travel always looked so cool in those films, when it wasn’t in real life. In the movies, you never saw anyone having trouble walking in low gravity or eating disgusting rehydrated space food or vacuuming their poop out with a space toilet. Instead, gravity was always exactly the same on every planet, the food was delicious, and no one ever even went to the bathroom. Without thinking about it, I’d referenced Star Wars over and over again, and finally Zan had said, “Are you ever going to show me this movie?” So I did. I brought her to the rec room and uploaded Star Wars: A New Hope onto the SlimScreen.
Zan thought it was hilarious.
She laughed hysterically the whole way through it. And laughter was something that didn’t really translate between us. Zan’s species actually had humor, which was nice, but they didn’t express it by laughing; that was a human thing. Instead they made a high-pitched whine that was shrill enough to rattle my eardrums. Plus, there was a strange side effect where Zan would lose control of her projected self and her eyeballs would swell up like beach balls. It was all very disconcerting. Finally, about halfway through, I had to pause the movie and tell her, “It’s not a comedy.”
She stopped whining, her eyeballs shrinking back down to normal size, and said, “It’s not?”
“No,” I told her. “It’s a science-fiction adventure movie.”
“But all the spaceships and the weapons and everything are so ridiculous. Like the laser guns. When they shoot lasers at each other, you can see them moving through space, whereas in real life, light moves so quickly that the shot would be instantaneous. . . .”
“Er . . . yes,” I admitted, although this had never occurred to me before. “But . . .”
“And the ships keep jumping to warp speed, which is faster than light speed, which is simply impossible.”
“Well, just because you haven’t figured out how to do it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”
“Yes, but if it is done, it certainly won’t be in spacecraft as ludicrous as the ones in this movie. Half of them seem to be using the same type of rudimentary combustion engines that you use on your rockets. They’d be lucky to break the gravity of their planets, let alone travel dozens of light-years in a second.”
“I suppose. . . .”
“Plus, all the space creatures are absurd. They’re all modeled on humans with two arms and two legs, when there are thousands of other ways a body could be constructed.”
“Certainly. Look at your own planet. There are billions of species of insect and only one species of human. And yet there isn’t a single creature in the movie with an insect body structure.”
“You mean, you’d think Star Wars would be less funny if Chewbacca looked like a giant cockroach?”
“Well, it would certainly be more realistic. The chances of Wookiees being so structurally similar to your species is staggeringly improbable. And don’t even get me started on the fact that Luke Skystalker and Princess Leo and Ham Bolo look exactly like humans, even though they live in some galaxy far, far away.”
“Those aren’t their names. . . .”
“Well, you know who I mean. Honestly, the entire film is laughably earth-centric and the physics are preposterous.”
I turned the TV off. “Obviously, showing you this was a mistake.”
“No!” Zan cried. “It wasn’t. I’m really enjoying it. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time.” She giggled at the thought, her eyes swelling up again.
“Do you look like a giant cockroach?” I asked pointedly.
Zan stopped laughing. Her eyes returned to their normal size. “Why do you ask?”
“Because I don’t know anything about you,” I told her. “We always talk about me and earth and humanity, but never about you. I don’t even know what you really look like.”
“I don’t think you’re ready to see me as I really exist. For the time being, it’s much better if I appear to you in human form.”
“Because it’s far easier for you to relate to something that appears similar to you than something that appears alien.”
“You don’t know that for sure.”
“It seems logical to assume as much.”
“Now you sound like Mr. Spock.”
“Never mind.” If Zan had an issue with Wookiees looking too human, she’d probably flip out when she learned about Vulcans.
“I sense frustration in you,” Zan said.
“Yes.” There was no point in denying it. One of the side effects of Zan communicating directly with my mind was that she could read my emotions as well as I could. Better, sometimes.
“When you first approached me about being your human contact, you said it was extremely important,” I reminded Zan. “More important than I could possibly understand. But you haven’t told me why yet. You haven’t told me anything. Not one thing about you or your family or your planet. While I’ve told you plenty. I’ve answered all your questions, and you’ve had a million of them.”
“Dashiell, when we began this relationship, I warned you it wouldn’t be easy. . . .”
“You can’t tell me what we’re doing here? Or why our contact is so important?”
“Certainly you must realize how significant contact is between humans and an alien species for the first time.”
“Yes, but there’s more to it than that, isn’t there? What’s so important about it that I couldn’t possibly understand?”
“If I told you, you wouldn’t understand it.”
“See?” I snapped. “Answers like that are why I’m frustrated! Can’t you at least try to tell me?”
“I don’t have authorization for that yet.”
“Is the earth in some kind of danger?” I asked.
Zan didn’t answer. But something changed in her. I couldn’t tell what, exactly; it was almost as though her image had distorted for a fraction of a second. I got the idea that I’d caught her by surprise.
“I’m right, aren’t I?” I demanded. “The earth is in danger.”
“No,” Zan told me. “It’s not that dire.”
“I’m not,” Zan said, but I had the distinct feeling that she was. Or at least hiding something from me.
“What is going on here?” I asked.
Before Zan could respond, voices echoed in the hall outside the rec room. Someone was coming our way.
I suddenly realized that, in my frustration, I’d forgotten to not speak out loud to Zan.
I always tried to keep all our conversations inside my head, but that took a great deal of focus and concentration. When Zan appeared to me, it didn’t feel like she was only an image being projected into my mind. She seemed as real as any person on the base, and over my twelve years of life, I’d learned that when you speak to someone, you use your mouth, not just your brain. It was a tough habit to break. Often, I thought I was keeping quiet, only to realize in midsentence that I wasn’t.
Zan’s eyes flicked toward the door. “We can’t discuss this now. I have to go.”
“No,” I said. “Wait. . . .”
“I’m sorry,” Zan told me, then vanished.
A second later, Patton and Lily Sjoberg stormed into the room. Patton and Lily were the biggest bullies at Moon Base Alpha. They were twins, aged sixteen, and at that moment, they were very angry and obviously looking for trouble.
Unfortunately, they’d found me instead.