Hey, Rob here. Have I got a treat for you! I’ve finally branched out and collaborated with some great folks on a story. Wendy Mass, NY Times bestselling author, reached out to me last year to co-author a short sci-fi story to submit to the talented Alex Shvartsman, who was publishing the latest in his anthology series Unidentified Funny Objects. So we came up with a story in correspondence, from an alien liaison to the U.S. President, about the impending colonization of Earth and how wonderful it would be. We were just having fun, but it turned out pretty damned good, so Alex accepted and published it. And now, with myself and the narration of Audie-award-winning Khristine Hvam, I present… “The Other Ted.”
Listen to the Audio (28.5 min):
Read the Story (4,250 words / 17-minute read):
“The Other Ted”
Written by Wendy Mass and Rob Dircks; Narrated by Rob Dircks and Khristine Hvam
Transmission Commence; Translate to Earth protocol TCP-IP using private “electronic mail” address 695484-b94; Universal Timedate 92965-ap9.
Attention “President” Gabriella Lewin of arbitrarily-drawn geographic boundary known as “United States of America”:
Please forgive the boilerplate format of this correspondence. I much prefer to speak my own mind, but rules are rules.
You are hereby notified of our colonization of your planet (insert name of planet here): “Earth.” We shall begin colonization on (insert invasion date here): Universal Timedate 95332-ib4; Local “Earth” Timedate July 21, let’s say 3pm-ish.
Your immediate surrender is requested. Note that it is not required. We will be colonizing your planet regardless of your response. However, we have found that surrender and cooperation has led to the smoothest transitions of the native, dominant species into the subjugated servants and workers we require, so we are extending this offer as a courtesy. In the attached packet you’ll find a full prospectus of benefits and terms. We think, under the circumstances, these benefits are quite fair, generous in fact, as the alternative is—forgive the dramatic term—complete annihilation.
Please share this information with your fellow (insert titles of other arbitrarily-drawn geographic area leaders here) “Presidents,” “Prime Ministers,” “Kings,” etc., discreetly (we’ve found that broadcasting to entire populations creates unnecessary panic, requiring more of our subjugation resources than desirable) and respond by June 4 using the “reply” feature of your Earth electronic mail protocol. Thank you. We look forward to your response, and working together on a productive, bloodless transition.
All right, now that that boilerplate portion is satisfied, I hope it’s not bad form to include a few personal notes:
As Ondukat (your term might be “Research Analyst”) of this colonization, I’ve been assigned to learn and master the resources, culture, languages, physiology, economics, and history of your planet and its dominant species, you humans. And let me say—what a delight! You are hilarious (though also quite violent), and organized, and productive in your own way.
I am particularly fascinated with what you call “hair styles.” We Trewspart (not our species’ name, but a rough phonetic approximation for your “English” language) have no hair, so the cutting and shaping and decoration of your heads is endlessly entertaining to me. (And if I might be so bold, your individual “hair style” is unique—I have been reprimanded for keeping a hologram of it floating in my cubicle!)
What is the thing with food? We Trewspart ingest nutrients merely to continue a viable life span, as it should be. There are no ridiculous recipes, spices, hipster bar and grills, endless cooking shows, chocolate sculptures, balsamic reductions, or other various forms of near-religious adulation of food you will only be defecating in a few hours anyway.
I’m not required in the boilerplate to share this, but invadees are usually curious for the reason of our colonization, and I have to say, your Earth makes an excellent slingshot (you don’t have a term for this, but something like “transit outpost for high-speed cross-galactic travel” might be close). Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a planet in the right path of transit, with acceptable gravity, and just the right combination of elements, even Koneraw (the element you humans adorably call Gadolinium)? It’s like . . . I don’t know . . . it’s like finding one planet in a million. (Actually, it’s not “like” finding one planet in a million, it is literally finding one planet in a million. Forgive me, coming up with imaginative metaphors has never been my strong point.)
There I go, over my character-count limit again. These transmissions are expensive, I’ll probably be docked several credits. But I feel a personal touch is critical in transactions like these. Like you don’t want your Earth doctor to just blurt out “you’ve got three weeks to live,” you want him (or her, of course) to have what you call “bedside manner” or “compassion.” I strive for that. (And look at that! I believe that doctor metaphor was fairly imaginative and competent!)
Looking forward to your response,
(My personal designation doesn’t even have a phonetic English equivalent, so I hope “Ted” will suffice)
From: President Gabriella Lewin
Reply to: “Ted”
Sent: July 15, 12:02 pm
God, Ted. Why do you have to be SUCH an asshole? Pretending to be some kind of douchey “research analyst” who’s going to colonize the planet? And of course you’d pick our ex-anniversary for your “invasion.” That’s low, even for you. And don’t think I missed your not-so-subtle-dig at my cooking show addiction. It’s a real thing, and it’s hard. I’m down to four shows a day, which is NOT easy to juggle when you have THE MOST IMPORTANT JOB IN THE FREE WORLD, not that I need to explain myself to the likes of you.
And how did you get this email address in the first place? It’s encrypted a dozen different ways. No, don’t tell me. Just because you can sink low enough to make fun of my hair style (which we both know YOUR idiot nephew created and now it’s my “trademark” so I’m stuck with it), doesn’t mean that I’m going to sink to your level and report you for a security breach. How would that look? President Lewin’s idiot ex-husband arrested for “War of the Worlds” prank. It would look insane, that’s what. God, Ted!! Ugh!
Now I’m forced to reply on my private email server and you know the voters hate that. Maybe that’s your plan. Interfering with the next election. I just got this job. My desk chair still has someone else’s big butt impression on it. You more than anyone know what it cost me to get here. And now you have the nerve to—
No. I’m not raising my blood pressure any more over you. I’m taking deep breaths. In . . . out . . . in . . . out.
Look, I know you’re still hurt about how things ended. But it’s stupid pranks like this that prove to me I did the right thing. We just weren’t on the same wavelength anymore. I need a partner who doesn’t still ask people to pull his finger. I’m sorry. Truly. Now stop dicking around and go live your life. Find a hobby. Get a dog or something. I have a frickin’ country to run.
I’m hanging up now (metaphorically) but just so I don’t sound like a total B, I will say that your “invasion” letter was well-written and creative. Wish you’d shown more of that talent when we were in college together instead of carving boobs into the library desks.
Do not contact me again or I’ll be forced to turn you over to the authorities. And I mean the ones who wear all-black and everyone assumes don’t really exist because they’re just that good at making problems go away. You need to invade something? Go “invade” that nice Shayleen from the diner. The one who always gives you extra syrup.
President [Insert Middle Finger Emoji here]
Transmission Commence; Translate to Earth protocol TCP-IP using private “electronic mail” address 695484-b94; Universal Timedate 92989-ap3.
Attention “President” Gabriella Lewin of arbitrarily-drawn geographic boundary known as “United States of America:”
I received your reply, and may I say—how utterly delightful! Do you have any idea how much your colorful, passionate correspondence adds to my knowledge of the culture, language, and humor of your species? It warms my hearts (I have two, by the way) to know that you subjugated humans will be highly entertaining (in addition to your utility as laborers). Oh, this colonization is going to be one of my favorites, I can tell already.
I hope it’s all right, I do have a number of follow-up questions:
Is the designation of your lifemate (since departed, and for that I sympathize) really “Ted?” Do you have any idea what the chances of my randomly choosing that as my human designation are? I had Analysis Support run the numbers and it’s six-hundred-thousand-eight-hundred-nine to one. SIX-HUNDRED-THOUSAND to one. I don’t know about you, but that made my dermis tingle a little. We Trewspart don’t believe in “fate,” or “meaningful coincidences” or even an omnipotent deity (I mean, really), but “Ted?” Come on! I think there is something there, something I can’t quite put my finger (I have fifteen on each hand, by the way) on. I will probably receive a harsh reprimand for even suggesting this, but perhaps we should arrange a hologram meeting before the colonization commences? (And in case it’s not clear, I mean with yourself and myself alone, not this other “Ted” human. He sounds atrocious. I can have him terminated very discreetly if you wish.)
I sincerely apologize if you misunderstood my hair style reference. It was meant as a compliment. I performed a bit of followup research, and agree, that being forced to maintain what they call the “Lewin Do-In” might be a nerve I shouldn’t have touched. I retract my previous comments (although personally, as I’ve said, I find it unique and—if I might be so bold—inviting).
You mentioned the word “frickin,’” as in “I have a frickin’ country to run.” I pride myself on learning colony languages, but haven’t yet seen the human English word “frickin.’” Can you define that for me? (And if it’s not too much trouble, have one of your staff translate it into the five thousand other human languages?)
Same for the “middle-finger-emoji”—when we Trewspart raise our eighth finger, it is to celebrate seeing a friend after an extended period of time. Does it mean the same to you humans?
Finally, it seems from your (delightful) response that you may be questioning the validity of our communication. I’ve asked if I could provide a small bit of proof (and believe me, getting approval in this bureaucracy is NOT something I wish on even my least-favorite subjugated species), and the Board has miraculously allowed it. So, if possible, please look out the Oval Office window, to the northwest, five degrees from the horizon, at 9:13 pm Eastern Daylight Time tonight. I think you’ll be pleased, and clearly convinced.
I look forward to our next communication (and possible hologram meeting?),
P.S. The Board wanted me to remind you that, although they’ve given me vast leeway in my communications (their words, not mine, I mean “vast?” not really), that Earth colonization will irregardless begin on Universal Timedate 95332-ib4; Local “Earth” Timedate July 21, let’s say 3pm-ish. See you then!
From: President Gabriella Lewin
Reply to: “Ted”
Sent July 16, 8:52 pm
Ted, Ted, Ted. Why couldn’t you have been this clever during twenty years of marriage? Why did you constantly quote lines from The Simpsons when you had this creativity bubbling inside you? I’m only speaking to you in this non-threatening tone because it’s late and I’m tired otherwise I’d really be letting you have it for writing back to me when I VERY CLEARLY told you not to. I’ve already had to diffuse two international incidents today (classified of course, but one had to do with a pop star getting too frisky with a certain dictator, and the other, well, let’s just say the west coast gets to live another day). Then I threw out the first pitch at a local Little League game and threw my back out with it. Had to hobble off like nothing was wrong because people don’t like to see their leaders showing weakness. Now I’m on Valium, which is probably also why I’m not threatening to cut off your left you-know-what. And yes, it WAS a turn-off that you only had one. I lied. I’m sorry. But it’s true.
Anyway, to top it off, I had to have dinner with my frickin’ mother (bet you got the meaning of the word that time! I know how you felt about her.) Downed an extra Valium and listened to her tell me why I should get Botox so I don’t look so angry all the time. Hey, maybe I should drop my mother off at 2:55 (ish) at the site of First Impact. Although you neglected to mention where that would be. Maybe you’re not a very good liaison for the—what did you call them—Trewspart or something? What kind of stupid alien race name is that? You can do better, Ted. You were always better at words than me. I know you only wrote “irregardless” to make it seem like it wasn’t you.
Hey, I just realized it’s almost the time you said to look out the window. I half expect to see you running across the lawn in only your boxers (the ones with the twinkling Christmas lights that were a gag gift from that Library of Congress party a few years back) with half the secret service chasing you. But even you couldn’t sweet talk your way past the guards. They’re very protective after walking in on me last month in the shower. Long story that ended fine for everyone. Maybe that last Valium was one too many. I should go to bed.
Ok, it’s 9:13, Ted. Don’t see anything outside. Just the lawn dotted with trees, the iron fence and—
Wait, what the actual fu . . . WHAT?
TED!! WHY IS THERE A GIANT MIDDLE FINGER IN MY BACKYARD?? And is that… MARTHA FRICKIN’ STEWART standing next to it???
Huh. She looks amazing for her age. Maybe my mother was right. Ok Ted—or not Ted? I’m wide awake now. You’ve got my attention. I’m clearly losing my frickin’ mind so I’m just going to wave at Martha now. Hi Martha! Big fan! Love your Monte Cristo sandwich with the avo aioli. She’s walking toward me! She’s waving back! Um . . . why does Martha Stewart have fifteen fingers on her hand?? Uh, oh, feeling pretty fain . .
Transmission Commence; Universal Timedate 92974-ap2; PRIVATE unofficial channel; Unauthorized access strictly prohibited; DO NOT PROCEED with transmission without Board approval.
I hope it is not too forward to call you that, but after what we have experienced together, addressing you as President Lewin feels odd. There are so many things to say, and beyond them all, a feeling of confusion, that none of it will make sense. I have never had this feeling before. Last night, with you, it was . . . like a dream.
Oh my. I apologize. That comment was waaaay outside protocol! I clearly have been studying your species for too long. But perhaps if I recount the events of last night, you will understand. (I’m afraid in your state of pharmacological sedation you may not have remembered much.)
At precisely 9:13pm, my hologram, along with the “giant middle finger,” (which, I assure you again, was meant as a friendly greeting) stood just outside the Oval Office. Your look of confusion was priceless! You approached the window and waggled your fingers at me (wobbling slightly, it was kind of adorable).
Feeling a bit bolder, I approached the window, and lifted my own fifteen fingered hands in return, and unfortunately, that’s when you fell to the floor, hitting your head quite forcefully on the floor. (It was covered in a rug of some kind, but clearly not thick enough to blunt your injury.)
What to do? What to do? I thought you might be having some kind of seizure or something. I mean, what would the Board do if they found out I killed the human Earth colonization contact person? What would I do? I couldn’t live with myself. Here, I had begun to develop a rapport with perhaps my favorite colony candidate ever, and admittedly had pushed the boundaries of allowable conduct to commune with her, only to wind up KILLING her?
There was only one thing to do. I needed to save you. I needed to break Rule 5433-km65:
First contact must be at a minimum distance of fifty million artac units.
Still just a hologram, I ran through the wall of the Oval Office and knelt by your side. And then, in a moment I will surely be punished severely for later upon my return, I materialized, in my true form. I raised your head into my lap—getting sticky red blood (fascinating though also disgusting) on twelve of my fingers. I gently tapped your cheek. “President Lewin?”
You stirred—thank one of your deities!—and slowly opened your eyes. And then in one swift motion you looked at my face, my actual, Trewspart face, reached up, and slapped me—hard—and passed out once more.
Hmmm, I thought. Perhaps a sign of human affection I had missed in my research?
I healed your head wound (yes, I can do that) and you eventually regained consciousness only to immediately spring to your feet and reel backwards.
“Wha—wha— what the FUCK?! Who are . . . who . . . ?”
“You’re not Ted.”
“No. The other Ted.”
“Wh—wh— why did you look like Martha Stewart before? Outside?”
“I was going for Gordon Ramsey, but I must’ve missed a setting. Sorry about that.”
You leapt for one of the doors, I imagined to summon help, looking prepared to scream.
“Please, President Lewin. Please don’t. Give me a moment. Just a moment.”
You placed your hands on your hips in a gesture that I imagine was meant to look threatening but was actually quite endearing. “What, to eat my face off? Look at you! Of course you want to eat my face off!” And you turned once again to flee.
“Please . . . I frickin’ implore you.”
Now you stopped, hand on the doorknob, and actually laughed. “You still don’t know what ‘frickin’ means, do you?” And when you turned back once more, and saw my sincerity, and realized my urgency, you paused. “Huh. You’re not supposed to be here, are you?”
I shook my head. “You appeared to be in dire need. Near death. I couldn’t stand there, in hologram form, and do nothing.”
“So this isn’t supposed to happen. You physically being here. Alone with me.”
I shook my head again. “This is very much never supposed to happen. I will likely be executed upon my return. But . . . I had to save you.”
You rolled your eyes. “Oh, God. Another romantic. Just like Ted. The other Ted.” Then you pointed at me (not with your middle finger, curiously). “Okay. One minute. So, this colonization thing. It’s not bullshit?”
“It is not bullshit, if I understand the term correctly.”
“Holy Christ.” And after a pause, “Then why the niceties? What are you doing here? What’s the point?”
“I . . . I . . .”
“You’re out of your depth on this, aren’t you?”
“I’m afraid so. I have no idea what I’m doing. You’ve just been so . . .”
“Okay, stop. I get it. It happens.”
“You didn’t expect to, but you’re attracted to me.”
“Um, no. We male Trewspart bond with females based on calculations of optimal genetic diversity in offspring. There is no ‘attraction.’ It simply doesn’t happen. We don’t even have a word for it in our language.”
“And yet . . .”
I nodded. “And yet here I am. Oh my. What is wrong with me?”
“Listen, Ted.” You reached out your hand and placed it on mine. I felt that tingle on my dermis again. “Ted, you seem like a nice gu—Trewsp— whatever. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you. In fact, I think some female Trewsp— whatever will be lucky to have you as a mate.”
“I’m not sure wha—”
You put your finger on my lips (which I admit, I have replayed over in my head a few times since then. Okay, nine thousand and three times) and said, “Shh. Let’s just agree we can only ever be friends.”
I nodded, averting my gaze, but my eyes kept returning to your hair. Your hair.
You pretended not to notice. “Now, let’s discuss finding another planet to be your . . . what did you call it . . . boomerang? Slingshot?”
And that’s when the unfortunate thing happened. The outer layer of my dermis peeled off and revealed the sixty-three organs in my body. How embarrassing. Trewsparts molt a few times each revolution, totally normal, nothing to be ashamed of. But the timing was unfortunate, certainly. I wish I’d had a chance to tell you that your hairstyle is even more fetching in person before your eyes rolled back and you fell, once more, to the floor, reopening your wound. You really should get a thicker rug. I carried you gently to your couch, to allow you to heal and recover. I have returned to my ship, which obviously I never should have left. But I admit, the touch of your finger still lingers upon my lips. As I said at the start of this transmission—all is confusing.
If you would like to finish our conversation, I have left a private, unauthorized audio communication device in your top drawer next to your half-eaten Snickers bar. I fear I can no longer use formal channels for communication, as I am in extremely deep—how would you say it? Oh yes, “shit.” I eagerly await your next correspondence.
Ted! Your high-tech alien communication device is an old Palm Pilot?
Gabriella! You called! And no, it only looks like a historical Palm Pilot. Coincidence. It’s actually a highly classified nano-engineered molecular communicator.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s a Palm Pilot.
We’ll have to agree to disagree. It is good to hear your voice, though. I didn’t know if you’d reach out after, well, after . . .
After I saw your insides? Yeah, dude. That was some messed up shit right there.
Oh, how I do enjoy your colorful speech! You’ll be pleased to know my dermis has fully regenerated. Although I’m what you’d label purple now.
Weird. But to the point, what are we going to do about this impending invasion of yours? I have a few billion fellow humans who would really appreciate it if you could call it off.
Ah, if only. But as you probably know from your own bureaucracies, once these things are on the books, well . . . I mean the paperwork alone . . . Wait. Hold on. Paperwork!
You say “paperwork” like it’s a good thing.
Gabriella, although I’ve been demoted—and by demoted I mean I’ll be living in something akin to what you’d call a “dungeon” for the next several revolutions—they haven’t rescinded my access yet to the scheduling and logistics plans for Earth. I could introduce a small “clerical error” into the paperwork . . . it could delay the colonization a little, perhaps for four—
What, four days until they figure it out? Not that helpful.
I was going to say fourteen thousand of your Earth years.
Gabriella? Are you still there?
Fourteen thousand . . . years? Did you say?
Is that not sufficient?
Um… yes. Yes, I can live with that. Thank you, Ted. Thank you. One more thing though…
You ate the rest of my Snickers bar. I was saving that.
I am sincerely sorry. It was delicious though. And possibly worth the upcoming six-hour irrigation of my bowel system.
I’m just busting you. It’s all good. Thanks for the, uh, extension on the invasion. You’re a peach.
It has been my absolute pleasure to make your acquaintance and almost colonize your world. You are a peach as well, although I have no idea what that means.
It means you’re frickin’ great.
Awww. My new favorite word. Goodbye, Gabriella. Your communication device will now cease functioning and will disintegrate. I look forward to crossing paths with you again in fourteen thousand Earth years.
Um . . . you’re aware of human lifespans, right?
Perhaps if you abstained from Snickers bars and Valium you might make it.
Ted, you’re hilarious.
Goodbye, my friend. Insert middle finger emoji here.
Insert middle finger emoji here.
I hope you enjoyed that short story. Here’s the team that brought it to you:
Wendy Mass is the NY Times bestselling author of nearly 30 books, including The CandyMakers, A Mango-Shaped Space, and Bob. You can find out more about her and get in touch at wendymass.com.
Alex Shvartsman is an anthologist, translator, and the author of Eridani’s Crown and over 120 short stories. You can find more about him and get in touch at alexshvartsman.com.
And Khristine Hvam is an award-winning audiobook narrator, producer, director, and voice over actress, with over 350 audiobook titles to her name. You can find out more about her and get in touch at hvamaudio.com.
I, of course, am Rob Dircks, author of the Where the Hell is Tesla? science fiction series, The Wrong Unit, and the #1 Audible Bestselling novel, You’re Going to Mars! (Which Khristine also narrated, btw!)
And you can buy Alex’s sci-fi humor anthology Unidentified Funny Objects 8 on Amazon — delivering your annual dose of funny, zany, and unusual science fiction and fantasy stories. All-new fiction from the genre’s top voices!
Copyright ©2021 Wendy Mass and Rob Dircks