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
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
“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
“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.
Let them 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
“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: