A monster from the stars may have met its match in suburban Oakland, CA
by Robert Silverberg
Amanda spotted the alien late Friday afternoon outside the Video Center on South Main. It was trying to look cool and laid-back, but it simply came across as bewildered and uneasy. The alien was disguised as a seventeen-year-old girl, maybe a Chicana, with olive-toned skin and hair so black it seemed almost blue, but Amanda, who was seventeen herself, knew a phony when she saw one.
She studied the alien for some moments from the other side of the street to make absolutely certain. Then she walked over.
“You’re doing it wrong,” Amanda said. “Anybody with half a brain could tell what you really are.”
“Bug off,” the alien said.
“No. Listen to me. You want to stay out of the detention center, or don’t you?”
The alien stared coldly at Amanda and said, “I don’t know what the crap you’re talking about.”
“Sure you do. No sense trying to bluff me. Look, I want to help you,” Amanda said. “I think you’re getting a raw deal. You know what that means, a raw deal? Hey, look, come home with me, and I’ll teach you a few things about passing for human. I’ve got the whole friggin’ weekend now with nothing else to do anyway.”
A flicker of interest came into the other girl’s dark, chilly eyes. But it died quickly, and she said, “You some kind of lunatic?”
“Suit yourself, O thing from beyond the stars. Let them lock you up again. Letthem stick electrodes up your ass. I tried to help. That’s all I can do, is try,” Amanda said, shrugging. She began to saunter away. She didn’t look back. Three steps, four, five, hands in pockets, slowly heading for her car. Had she been wrong, she wondered? No. No. She could be wrong about some things, like Charley Taylor’s interest in spending the weekend with her, maybe. But not this. That crinkly-haired chick was the missing alien for sure.
The whole county was buzzing about it: Deadly nonhuman life form has escaped from the detention center out by Tracy, might be anywhere, Walnut Creek, Livermore, even San Francisco, dangerous monster, capable of mimicking human forms, will engulf and digest you and disguise itself in your shape. And there it was, Amanda knew, standing outside the Video Center. Amanda kept walking.
“Wait,” the alien said finally.
Amanda took another easy step or two. Then she looked back over her shoulder.
“How can you tell?”
Amanda grinned. “Easy. You’ve got a rain-slicker on, and it’s only September. Rainy season doesn’t start around here for another month or two. Your pants are the old Spandex kind. People like you don’t wear that stuff anymore. Your face paint is San Jose colors, but you’ve got the cheek chevrons put on in the Berkeley pattern. That’s just the first three things I noticed. I could find plenty more. Nothing about you fits together with anything else. It’s like you did a survey to see how you ought to appear and then tried a little of everything. The closer I study you, the more I see. Look, you’re wearing your headphones, and the battery light is on, but there’s no cassette in the slot. What are you listening to, the music of the spheres? That model doesn’t have any FM tuner, you know.
“You see? You may think that you’re perfectly camouflaged, but you aren’t.”
“I could destroy you,” the alien said.
“What? Oh, sure. Sure you could. Engulf me right here on the street, all over in thirty seconds, little trail of slime by the door and a new Amanda walks away. But what then? What good’s that going to do you? You still won’t know which end is up. So there’s no logic in destroying me, unless you’re a total dummy. I’m on your side. I’m not going to turn you in.”
“Why should I trust you?”
“Because I’ve been talking to you for five minutes and I haven’t yelled for the cops yet. Don’t you know that half of California is out searching for you? Hey, can you read? Come over here a minute. Here.” Amanda tugged the alien toward the newspaper vending box at the curb. The headline on the afternoon Examiner was:
MARINES TO JOIN NINE-COUNTY HUNT
MAYOR, GOVERNOR CAUTION AGAINST PANIC
“You understand that?” Amanda asked. “That’s you they’re talking about. They’re out there with flame guns, tranquilizer darts, web snares, and God knows what else. There’s been real hysteria for a day and a half. And you standing around here with the wrong chevrons on! Christ. Christ! What’s your plan, anyway? Where are you trying to go?”
“Home,” the alien said. “But first I have to rendezvous at the pickup point.”
“You think I’m stupid?”
“Shit,” Amanda said. “If I meant to turn you in, I’d have done it five minutes ago. But, okay, I don’t give a damn where your rendezvous point is. I tell you, though, you wouldn’t make it as far as San Francisco rigged up the way you are. It’s a miracle you’ve avoided getting caught until now.”
“And you’ll help me?”
“I’ve been trying to. Come on. Let’s get the hell out of here. I’ll take you home and fix you up a little. My car’s in the lot down on the next corner.”
“Whew!” Amanda shook her head slowly. “Christ, some people sure can’t take help when you try to offer it.”