Friday, January 15, 2021

Mr. Jones Paints A Fence [Short Story]


"Do I really need to be here for this?" the young human girl before me asked. 15 Years old and the ward of the alien that sat beside her. She wore a ragged pair of jeans and a t-shirt with some generic cartoon on it. Around her waist was tied a long sleeve shirt she never wore. "Couldn't I just get my punishment handed down to me later from Mr. Jones?"
"Young lady, you are here for a reason and you know it," I growled. Not particularly angry with her, just the nature of my species; the Carawong. We are one of three peoples known as the Cats, due to our similarity to Earth's common house variety. In truth they're like to us as apes are to man. We walk upright and dress ourselves in fine suits. We're also built like body builders.
"Wolfe, If I may interject," Jones spoke up from beside the girl. His small hand was raised as if asking a teacher for attention. In said hand was a tiny cigarette the size of a toothpick.
"No you may not," I hissed at him, "and put out that damn cigarette. You know how I feel about smoking in here."
Jones slowly lowered his hand, deliberately exaggerating his actions to emphasize it. With no ashtray in sight he settled for my desk. Jones has a way of getting under my skin, today however he seemed particularly needling. Once the cigarette was disposed of his trademark flask and folding martini glass made an appearance from inside his custom made, Armani suit. A tiny amount of liquid that would hardly register as a sip to me (but to his species a sizable glass) was poured out.
When you think of the classic image of an alien -big head, grayish complexion, big black eyes- that's Jones' people. The only real difference is none of them are taller than 4 foot. Jones himself is rather average at 3 feet tall. 
Jones took a sip of the drink he'd poured, scratched the bump on his face where a nose would go if he had one, and motioned me to continue.
"This isn't like the last time you were called in here because you stole  another girl's bike. You stabbed a boy with a fork. His parents are very unhappy and demanding you be sent back to earth. Frankly, I'm beginning to wonder if that might not be the best thing for everyone, including yourself."
The girl sat upright in her seat at those words.
"Send me back? You can't send me back. I belong here now..." She turned a pleading eye to her guardian, "with Mr. Jones."
"Anna," I sighed, "I know your affection for Jones, but these incidents keep happening, and I have to wonder if a change of environment would resolve the issues for you."
"Now hold on," Jones interjected. "I've read the report and I happen to think she had probable cause."
"All the boy said was that he 'liked' her," I growled.
"Sounds like probable cause to me."
"Jones," I muttered, rubbing my temples, "I'm tired of feeling like a principle at a school. I've got too many irons in the fire as it is."
"Look, I'll take her on my next mission. That's the other reason I'm here, right? It'll give everyone a chance to calm down, and then we can discuss things when we get back." For an alien with a rubbery exterior and no eyebrows, he was able to convey a surprising amount of emotion on his face.
"Alright Jones, I'll see if I can calm the parents down. But I must insist she apologize to the boy." 
I turned to Anna who, unlike her alien counterpart, had nothing resembling humane in her expression. "Agreed?"
"Agreed," she stated blankly.
"Good. Why don't you go and attend to that now while I discuss business with Jones here."
She nodded and got up. I watched her exit through the door, unsure how much, if anything, had registered with her. When I turned back to Jones, his feet were propped up on my desk, the martini glass had refilled itself and a new toothpick was lit in his hand.
"Kids..." he muttered and shook his head.
"Jones!" I roared at him.
A look of pain filled his face. 
"What did I do?" he asked, voice dripping with hurt.
"If I weren't married to your cousin, I swear I'd-"
"How are Marie and the kittens doing?"
"I've asked you not to call them kittens before. As far as Marie, she's good. Been on another weight loss kick. Nothing but boiled vegetables for days."
"I feel you my brother. I mean, this burger I had last night had tomatoes on it. You know how I am about tomatoes."
"You like tomatoes."
"Right," he said. Jones took one last puff and, having delayed long enough to finish, put it out on my desk.
"We've really gotten off track here. There's a rather time sensitive mission requiring SSSS attention."
For those of you who don't know, there is a force for good in the galaxy. The SSSS (Solar System Secret Service) acts as a governing body to make sure our agreed upon laws are enforced. Our branch has just a few active planets, so most of our work comes with protecting Earth and Venus. Pluto, which actually is a planet, has surprisingly little problems. Likely because the Plutonians are exceptionally dull.
"Bring it on big daddy," said Jones.
I rolled my eyes in disgust but continued, "There's been reports of people disappearing in a small town in Pennsylvania, America, Earth. When they finally return, usually a week later, they have completely different personalities."
"Abductions?" Jones queried finally clicking into gear.
"The town is pretty isolated with really only one plant supporting the majority of people living there. A paint factory as it happens."
Jones sighed, "Miners."
"Looks like it."
Jones slipped on a bowler hat and clambered off the chair he'd been propped up on. 
"I'm on it," he stated confidently.
"Good man. I'll forward the coordinates to your ship. We actually have a contact there who I want you to meet with. Thomas Denniby. I think he can help you get access into the plant."
"A contact? Since when do we keep contacts on Earth?" he responded skeptically.
"This is a special circumstance," I smiled back.
I stood and showed him out of my office. Before the door closed I could hear a boy screaming in the distance. I could only assume that was to do with Anna's apology and I wanted nothing to do with it. My stomach growled miserably. Maybe I'll send out for dinner tonight, I thought.


In the southern Pennsylvania town of Mills Creek, a man named Thomas Denniby was sweeping his front porch. The house was a rundown little number that had been standing thanks to faith more than structural support for the last 40 years. Its new owner was the perfect reflection of the house. In beatdown overalls, his thin frame and sharp cheekbones reflected the life he'd lived. Honest and hardworking, he'd managed in 37 years of living to scrape together enough to buy the little tumbledown shack. The first step had been buying it, the next step would be repairs. A task he was more than equipped to handle.
The morning was still freshly risen when out back of Thomas's house, a small saucer-shaped ship, about the size of children's swimming pool, landed in the freshly mown grass. Around the perimeter, a chipped and peeled white picket fence witnessed a small alien in a fancy blue suit emerge from the ship. Behind him a girl who should not have been able to fit in the saucer stepped out as well. The opposite in more than one way, while the raggedy jeans still adorned her, she'd swapped out her tshirt for an oversized hoody. Her blonde hair blew lightly in the morning sunlight as she looked around.
Jones took a step, stopped and raised his shoe to take a look.
"Every damn time," he exclaimed, "your world has to be the most poop filled planet I've ever been on. I bet he doesn't even have a dog."
"Don't forget to turn on the image projector," Anna warned.
Jones clicked a button on his belt and suddenly the image of a very short man holographically covered the alien.
"Good thinking. No telling if he's alone."
Now Anna was laughing.
"You're still the same size!" she gasped.
"Obviously. Can you imagine if someone thought I was taller and tried to touch me? They'd be grabbing thin air."
"I think you look very cute," she said, finally getting control of herself.
Jones frowned at her, "Could we?" 
Giggling lightly, Anna led the way around to the front of the house. As they approached from the side Thomas paused his sweeping and eyed them cautiously. As the little girl and even littler man climbed the three steps up to his porch, Thomas gripped his broom tightly.
"Howdy," Anna called out as she crested the porch.
Thomas cocked his head in acknowledgment but gave no more.
"Are you by any chance, Mr. Thomas Denniby?" Anna enquired.
A guarded nod of the head.
"Is there anyone one else around?" the little man asked him.
This alarmed Thomas who held out his broom, keeping them at a distance.
"Listen you, I don't know who you are or what this is about, but I don't want no trouble," Thomas asserted, swinging his broom back and forth.
Jones held up his hands in peace.
"Dude, relax, we're on your side. See..." Joes hit the switch, shutting the holograph off. "My name is Mr. Jones and this is-"
Upon being faced with the vision of a tiny alien in front of him, the broom came down, sweeping Jones into the side of a building before he could even finish his sentence. A dazed Jones looked up into the sunlight as the broom was lowered again and again on his head. Anna at first frozen suddenly seemed to wake up.
"What are you doing?" she yelled at Thomas.
"You stay back there little girl," Thomas answered, continuing to wail away. "Ain't nobody getting their asses probed today."
"What are you talking about, no one wants to probe your sorry ass," Jones hollered deflecting the blows as best he could.
"Yeah, that's what your kind said the last time!"
Anna had gotten behind Thomas and was pulling at his arms. The tiny alien seeing his opportunity scurried out of the way, pulling out his gun. A standard blaster, red and yellow, with twin disks encompassing the barrel. A flash of light burst out the end of the gun, instantly disintegrating the broom. This had the desired effect as Thomas froze where he was.
"Oh sweet Mary, mother of God, I can't take it up the ass again."
"Would you shut up about anal probing already? Oh, look at my suit, it's all scuffed to hell. Do you have any idea how much it costs to get a suit like this tailored to my size? You know what, never mind that now. I'm a little confused. My boss said you were a contact of ours and... And..." Jones winced in sudden realization, "They probed you didn't they?"
"Yes, God, yes. Please, don't do it again!"
"I thought you said you guys didn't actually do probes," asked Anna who had moved away from the man and was now looking at him with something approaching, but not quite, sympathy.
"We don't. Well, I don't. They did years back, before my time. Back in the 90's there was a 2 year project that ran for a while. It was scrapped when the then director of the SSSS, was discovered to be a fetishist posting the images online. But let me assure you sir, we no longer do that."
"That's very comforting," Thomas mocked, "I suppose you traveling around with this little girl is all above board and not some impregnating deal? Unless of course she's really another one of you."
"Oh no, I'm all girl," Anna chipped in.
"The interspecies pregnancies have always been illegal," Jones returned, "as for the girl, I saved her some time back from a villainous species of aliens that had already sucked out her family's brains."
Thomas glanced at Anna who didn't seem phased by his words in the least.
"She doesn't act like someone who's had what you just said happen."
"Sorry," Anna jumped in, "not everything registers with me. My own brain was damaged by one of the aliens. The part of my brain that feels empathy and emotion, doesn't always work."
"Look, we're here for a reason, and I'd much prefer it if we could finish our conversation indoors," Jones said.
"Alright," Thomas said, noting the gun still in Jones hands, "but if you try anything, I just want you to know, I've got a whole closet full of brooms inside."
If there was something to be said for the interior of the house it was that it appeared someone had tried to clean it. Otherwise the house was somewhat of an abomination. The walls were covered in a flowery wallpaper pattern, intersected with large gashes where one can only assume previous residents had had a go at trying to remove it. There were holes everywhere; in the floors, wall, and a pitiful staircase that dared you to try it and see how you faired. 
"Love what you've done with the place," Jones quipped.
"It's a work in progress. I only got the house a couple weeks ago."
"You paid for this?" Jones asked while sidestepping a hole that was practically a canyon to his small body.
"Original wood," Thomas responded sardonically.
They made their way down a hallway to the other end of the house where the kitchen sat. Not to be outdone, the kitchen housed only the highest end appliances from 1953. The room appeared to be covered in dinge. On closer inspection, it would seem everything had been cleaned, but years of dirt had left it stained and patterned into the makeup of the kitchen. In the middle sat a sad, beat up, little, wooden table with three chairs. It was clear on top except for a bowl of yogurt covered pretzels. Thomas beckoned for them to sit down.
Jones, once he had climbed up, observed the pretzels with great interest. Never shy, and always a fan of Earthen edibles, reached out and helped himself. 
"Jones," Anna hissed at him, "that's rude. You haven't been invited yet."
Thomas waived it off, "It's alright. Hardly think it matters considering you're holding me at gun point."
Jones tipped his bowler towards the gentleman and began nibbling at the pretzel.
"Right, let's get down to business," a mouth stuffed with pretzels spoke, "You work at the local paint plant, yes?"
"Yeah, everyone in town does."
"Notice anything strange?"
"I'm sitting across from strange."
"I mean at the plant."
"Do you mean the disappearances?"
Jones nodded, keeping his attention on the bowl in front of him.
"One day a couple weeks back, half the town vanished. A few days later they came back. Since then a couple people a day have gone missing. But they always return."
"Memmppfhhsdn," Jones attempted to speak through a mouthful.
"Did you find that odd at all?" Anna translated. Jones gave a thumbs up to her.
"Well sure, but I've always lived on the outskirts of people, half the things people do make no sense to me. I mean, yeah, people seem different when they return, but it didn't seem like any of my business."
Jones wiped crumbs from his mouth before speaking up, "It's probably for the best you didn't or you'd likely have joined their ranks."
"Ranks?" Thomas asked, still eyeing the blaster in Jones hand. "Do you suppose you could put the gun down now? It's really making me nervous and I'm already having trouble holding my bowels in check."
"Gross, man, I'm eating." 
Nevertheless Jones holstered the tiny gun. In it's place he pulled out a familiar flask and cup. 
"Little early isn't it?" Anna observed.
"Just to wash down the pretzels, sweetie," Jones answered and turned back to Thomas. "I'm sorry to tell you that the town folk have most likely been replaced by aliens. Possibly miners."
"Miners? Is that what your people call yourselves?" Thomas asked.
"Miners aren't a race," Jones replied, "it's an occupation. I don't have enough information to be sure which is why I need your help to get me into the plant."
"Miners. Like gold miners? I haven't seen any kind of digging going on at the plant and believe me I'd notice. I'm maintenance, it's my job to keep the place in order."
"There's all kinds of things one can mine," Jones spoke grimly. "Can you get me into the plant?"
"Why not just fly your ship in there yourself?"
"Because if I'm wrong I've just exposed humankind to life from other planets. I can't risk that."
The wheels in Thomas's head were turning. A bit of leverage had just been handed over to him. Jones eyed him as he sat there silently. Patience is not a virtue the small alien knows, and so, after barely 20 seconds, he began clapping at Thomas to get his attention.
"It's not a quiz show," Jones exclaimed. "Can you get me into the plant or not?"
"What's in it for me?" Thomas asked.
"What do you mean what's in it for you? Helping out your fellow man. Delivering justice to the poor people of this town. Your friends, people you lived among."
"I have no friends. I do however have a house that needs renovating."
Jones raised an eyebrow. "And..."
"And I could sure use some help."
"I'm sorry, did you just go from being afraid of me probing your ass to extortion without blinking?"
"Damn straight. My ass demands restitution."
What Jones said at that moment is not fit to print, and to be honest, I'm not even sure I could spell it. Anna did her best to calm him down but he was not having it.
"What do you propose exactly? The agency won't pay for your renovations and I'm hardly going to be any help at my size."
Thomas looked him up and down, sizing him up. 
"You ever done any painting?" he asked.
So it goes that Jones found himself on a sunny Saturday morning in a pair of child's overalls, paintbrush in one hand, and a can of Charleston's All White in the other. On the porch Thomas sat in a chair, sipping on a glass of lemonade. Beside him was a broom and mop in case Jones got out of order. Anna, sat on the steps, amused by the situation. 
"Couldn't we do this after my investigation?" Jones asked.
"And have you skip out on me afterwards?" Thomas hollered from the porch.
Mumbling about humans not being worth it, Jones returned to the task at hand. After a while he found himself slipping into a trance, his mind wandering a thousand different directions from the boredom. Once again he was camouflaged by the hologram of a very short man. To anyone watching, it would have been a weird enough sight without Jones true visage showing.
Any other time Jones would have been aware of his surroundings, but in his Zen like state, he was completely oblivious to the 9 year old child, in a Hawaiian shirt, parked alongside Jones on his bike watching him intently. 
"Do you like painting fences?" 
The words filtered through the ether Jones was floating in. The chubby face of the boy and his rusty hair began to come into clarity staring through the other side of the fence.
"What?" Jones asked, snapping out of it.
"Do you like painting fences? You're doing a good job of it. "
"Thanks," he muttered in response, "I wouldn't exactly say I 'like' painting."
"Then why are you doing it?"
A glimmer of an idea struck Jones.
"I mean, I don't just like it. Say, what's your name boy?"
"Tom," answered Tom.
Jones rolled his eyes at the second occurrence of a Tom.
"Tom, I've got to tell you, painting this fence is about the most enjoyable thing in the world."
"For real?"
"Oh absolutely. That's why I volunteered to do this job. I even traded an apple so I could have a go. There's nothing quite like painting a fence."
"An apple hardly sounds fair if it's that much fun."
Jones sensed he was losing his mark.
"Well, it was an especially good apple, and he was very hungry. I'll tell you what though, it hardly seems fair that I should be the only one enjoying this. Since you're so nice, I guess I could see it in my heart to let you have a turn painting."
"Just this once."
"No thanks, sucko," Tom called out as he began peddling his bike. "Enjoy your boring-ass job."
Jones watched him heading down the road, the shadow of the bike trailing after. He thought about chasing him down and throwing paint on him. In the end he decided it would just be more work. Instead he set his gaze on finishing the task at hand. Soon he was back in his ether, floating away as the paintbrush in his tiny hand methodically swooped up and down.
By the time he was finished, the sun was setting. Exhausted as he was, Jones dressed once again in his suit, stood before Thomas, ready to go.
"I've finished with the fence," said Jones.
"What about the second coat?" Thomas replied.
"I've finished with the fence," Jones reiterated, an icy edge to his voice.
"Alright, fine, I'll grab my keys and we'll head off.
While he was inside Jones turned his attention to Anna.
"I suppose you enjoyed that," he said.
"Not really. The novelty wore off after the first few minutes. The rest of the time it was like watching paint dry. I kept expecting you to crack and pull your blaster on Tom again."
"Yeah, he said I could call him Tom. He's actually a really nice guy."
Jones' race does not sweat -externally- but that did not stop him from pretending to wipe sweat from his face. 
"Yeah, a real sweetheart. I practically melted away to nothing out there."
Anna rolled her eyes but offered him a small consolation of "there, there."
"You know I'm leaving you here when we go to the factory, right?" Jones asked.
"What? Why?" she protested.
"It's dangerous, I've grown attached to you, and you seem to have this Penny helping Inspector Gadget complex."
"I thought you liked that about me," she said smiling.
"It's cute when it's about day to day things. In this type of situation, it could get you killed."
"Alright, I'll stay in the ship, but after this is all over, you're taking to me to a theme park."
"I don't recall opening this up to negotiation," Jones said.
"Neither do I," she responded firmly.
"Okay, fine. Now head on off to the ship. And don't forget to DVR my shows."
Anna left and few moments later Thomas appeared, keys in hand. He shook them at Jones and motioned towards the car parked in the driveway.
"Shall we?" Thomas asked.
It was a 20 minute drive through the country night. The houses they passed were all darkened, with no lights turned on anywhere. No TVs glowing to atomic families while they digested ritualized meals. In short, no sign of life at all.
When they arrived at the plant, things were different. Lights and the sounds of machines thundered from inside. At the front gate, they were greeted by a tall, spindly looking security guard.
"Hey Tom, startin' kinda early tonight aren't you?" the guard said.
"Training a new guy," Tom answered, nodding towards Jones.
Jones holograph, squat, and balding, waved at the guard.
"Super!" the guard ejaculated. "You guys have an awesomely tight, amazing night."
The guard threw them a plastic smile along with finger guns before opening the boom gate.
"Yeesh, I see what you mean about the people being off," Jones commented after they'd passed through.
"Huh?" said Tom. "Oh, no, that's just Thompson. He's always like that."
Jones looked back at the guard over his shoulder and shuddered.
Inside, the strangeness continued. All around workers moved about stiffly doing their jobs. Occasionally, one would look up at Jones and Tom before returning to their tasks. There were no smiles or anger, just blank expressions. Despite the heat that filled the room, no one seemed to be sweating, or showing signs of fatigue.
Around them, machines whirred and hummed, occasionally spitting out steam, just in case you forgot you were in a factory. On the second floor, a man with short blonde hair and an equal proportion of fat and bulging muscles, peered over the railing down below. A cigar in his mouth occasionally dropped ash from its own weight.
Jones nodded towards him.
"Who's that?" he asked Thomas.
"That's the manager, Frank Detweiler. Always been kind of a mean SOB."
"Well, that 'mean SOB' is the odd man out here."
Jones held up a hand to silence him and continued to watch his target. Frank, looked over the operations, a grim scowl written across his face. His cigar dropped another load of ash to the metal walkway below his feet. He was mouthing something to himself. A few minutes later, whatever internal arguments he'd been having, were decided. Frank straightened himself up, turned on his heel and stormed into an office behind him.
"What say we pay yonder kingpin a visit?" Jones asked.
"You think Frank's the head alien?" Tom asked back.
"Not exactly." 
The pair of them weaved their way around workers and machinations till they came to a set of metal steps that led up to the next level. Once they were above, Jones paused to look out over the floor below. A frown settled into his brow. Below the workers were manning their stations as if everything in the world was normal. No one even seemed to pay attention to the large vat that held a bubbling pink liquid.
"What the heck is that?" asked Tom.
"That, I'm sorry to say, is what's left of your coworkers."
"You mean..."
"Miners, it's what they do. They boil down a species to extract a pure form of an element. Then they refine it, and mix it into a paint base for shipping purposes. With humans it's usually carbon."
"Carbon! But you can get carbon anywhere."
"You'd think so, but carbon extracted from the human body has some different properties. To put it bluntly, humans are an incredible aphrodisiac."
"You're saying that other species use us as... as..."
"Viagra. Yep. The only problem is, there's not nearly enough in the vat to account for the amount of people in this town."
Jones nodded toward a door that proclaimed itself to be Frank Detweiler's office.
"Come on," Jones said, "let's go get some answers."
Given the circumstances, Jones didn't feel knocking was necessary. Finding the door locked, Jones pulled his blaster, only to find that an enraged Thomas, was more than a match for it. A heavy shoulder to the frame and they were in. Inside, a somewhat startled Frank looked up from his desk. The cigar near to a stub still dangled limply from his mouth with more ash than seemed possible to still be hanging off the end.
"Good God, man, don't you ever use an ashtray?" Jones asked.
"What the hell do you think you're doing Tom? And who the hell is this?" Frank raged.
"Who the hell is 'this?' Who the hell are you?" Thomas volleyed.
A stream of profanity, some of which I'm honestly unsure of the meaning, exited his mouth along with the words "your boss." 
"The hell you are, you alien tub of crap," said Thomas.
Jones leaned over to Thomas.
"Actually, Thomas, that is the real Frank. I thought I made that clear earlier."
"What?" he hissed back at Jones.
"He's still human. I thought you understood that."
"You're Frank?" he asked Frank.
"That's right, and you're fired," Frank replied.
"Not so fast, you weirdly muscular, tubby man," Jones interjected. "You might be human but your partners certainly aren't."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
At that point Jones decided he'd had enough of the charade and turned his holograph off. A look of horror filled Frank's face.
"You're one of them," Frank gasped.
"I am alien, though a different species."
"You look exactly the same as the other ones. Small, gray, with big heads and big eyes."
Jones frowned.
"That can't be. My people would never be miners."
"Minors. Exactly. Your people are kids.
"I think he means minors," Thomas interrupted.
"That's what I said, Miners. They came here to mine."
Frank looked baffled for a moment before understanding came to him.
"I get it now. They're minor miners. Children miners. Your people masquerading as this town's children."
"I can't believe it. My people are always so peaceful."
"Yeah, well, believe it. If I hadn't cut a deal with them, I'd be stewing in that pot with the rest of the town."
"Instead you sold us out you sorry bastard," Thomas spat.
"I notice you're still here," Frank snapped back.
"A gross oversight. One that will soon be corrected," a voice from the other side of the door spoke.
Jones spun around, blaster in hand. Before him was his mirror. Unless you've spent a lot of time with Jones' people, they really do all look alike. If it weren't for the fact that the alien on the other side of the door was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, he was the spitting image of Jones. He even had a blaster in his hand same as Jones.
"Who's he?" Thomas whispered to Jones.
"How would I know?" he replied.
"I just assumed."
"Assumed what?" broke in Hawaiian shirt, "that because we're from the same planet, we should automatically know each other?"
"There's almost a 100 million people on our planet, dude. Don't be racist," Jones added.
"Now, Mr. Jones, what shall we do?" Hawaiian shirt asked.
"I thought you said you didn't know each other," said Thomas.
"I am a well known secret agent. It's only appropriate that he'd know me," Jones replied before turning back to the opposition, "and judging by the Hawaiian shirt, I assume you're the notorious Magnum."
"Indeed I am," Magnum responded.
"What the hell?" Thomas exclaimed.
Jones ignored him.
"We appear to be at somewhat of an impasse," Jones stated.
"Not really. You seem to have forgotten there's a man with a gun behind you."
A word about Jones people: While small, they possess bodies that are like rubber balls, capable of expelling great amounts of energy at once. Little had the words left Magnum's mouth, than Jones had flung himself into the air in a backflip, over the head of Frank, who was discharging a gun. The bullet shot past where Jones' head had been seconds before, and almost hit Magnum. Magnum in turn had also fired a shot from his blaster which landed square in the gut of Frank, who sat back heavy in his chair. 
Without hesitation, Magnum, sprung backwards, flipping over the railing and down to the second floor below. Back in the office, Frank had dropped his gun, which Thomas quickly retrieved. Frank stared down at his stomach where a large hole was spreading blood across his shirt. The cigar, which had dropped out of his mouth, was finally spilling its ashen load down his chest.
Another string of expletives that seemed at once disturbing, yet appropriate, as it was coming from a dying man, flew from the large man.
"Mutual destruction," Frank sputtered, blood flying through his lips. 
Frank pulled a remote from his shirt pocket and pressed a button on it. Almost immediately, a small explosion went off on the floor below. A smile passed over his lips before he fell forward, no longer a part of the conversation.
"That doesn't sound good," said Thomas.
"Let's get out of here quickly," Jones suggested.
The two tore out onto the walkway outside the office, just as a second explosion was going off. Below, the workers kept working as if nothing was happening around them. Thomas downed the stairs and crossed the floors to the exit as a fireball flashed from the center of the factory. He glanced behind him to see Jones, with his short, stubby legs, just finishing the stairs.
Thomas groaned and then quickly made his way back through the maze of oblivious staff and humming machines. He reached Jones just as the third explosion tore its way closer to them. With no time to think, he scooped the small alien up and flung him over his shoulder. Once more Thomas ran the gauntlet, clinging to Jones like a child. Jones who had never been carried in such a manner before, could only watch as more explosions sprang to life.
"Must go faster," Jones hollered.
Thomas rolled his eyes and pushed out through the door, into the night. He kept running, forgetting about his car parked down the lot. He sped past the security post which was currently vacated and onto a quiet field outside the complex where at last he dropped the alien to the ground. 
Still gasping for air, Thomas turned to see the building just as it exploded outward and upward into the sky. 
"You think we're far enough away?" Thomas asked.
"Oh, definitely," Jones replied.
As they watched the flames crawling higher, a flaming paint can, blasted by the explosions began arcing towards where the two of them stood. Just in time, Jones pulled his blaster and shot it. The can, instantly vaporized, turned the paint inside into a fine mist that covered both man and alien. The two stood unblinking for a moment in silence, covered in blue.
"I hate you," said Thomas.
It was a long walk back before the two of them found a car they could hotwire. Both were too exhausted to speak. Not that either of them had anything to say to the other. By the time the two of them got back to Thomas's house, the sun was just threating to come up over the horizon. 
"Surprised no one's come to investigate the explosions yet. Your town must be even more cut off then I thought," Said Jones.
"If you can even call it a town anymore," Thomas responded.
"Well, it's been a laugh, but I guess I'll be leaving."
"What about Magnum?"
"He'll be long gone by now, as will any accomplices. We'll do our best to track them down though."
Jones Held out a hand to shake. Thomas looked at it, then walked away.
Jones shrugged and headed back into his ship. The ship was warm and inviting inside. A pillow on a couch was beckoning him to set the autopilot and take a nap. Business first.
"Anna, I'm back," Jones hollered.
He waited for a response, but there was none.
Not wanting to be paranoid, he calmly walked down the hall to her room. However, there was no need to knock as the door was wide open. As was the bathroom, and the door to Jones' personal quarters. A little less calm now, he made his way back to the front of the ship and to the console.
The ship was equipped with several security cameras, inside and out. Jones ran them backward at high speed until something caught his eye. There on the screen was Anna exiting the ship. She was chasing after something, but it was hard to distinguish what until a figure stepped into the light. Jones stomach sank. Off in the distance almost invisible, was a small grey alien in a Hawaiian shirt. Jones watched as the two of them disappeared into the night.
Not sure of what he'd need, Jones put together a sack of random tech which he slung over a shoulder before bolting out the ship. A minute later and he was banging on Thomas's door. A somewhat grizzled Thomas answered. 
"What now?" he growled.
"Anna's gone."
"The little girl?" he responded.
"I need to know where that boy lives. The one that was riding the bike when I was out painting."
"You mean Tom. Let me see, he's Elissa and Tom Sr.'s boy."
"Can you take me to them?"
"Let me go grab Frank's gun first."
Once again, the two found themselves in the hotwired car they'd taken earlier. 
"What's your plan?" asked Thomas.
"Not sure exactly, since I don't know who or what we'll find when we get there. If it's just Magnum with Anna, he'll likely have a gun to her head. If there's a whole gang there, Anna will probably be in a safer position than us."
"Should you call for back up?"
"The nearest back up is a few hundred light years away, and we don't have the 30 minutes to wait. I do have a sort of plan. More of a trick than a plan."
Tom turned onto a side street, keeping his eyes locked on the road as he spoke, "I'm listening."
"We'll both wear holograph projectors. With mine, I'll transform myself into you. That way if anyone shoots me, I have a slight advantage in them likely missing the first couple of shots, as I'm much shorter than I'll appear. Before Magnum or anyone else can figure out I'm me, I'll be bouncing around the walls of the basement and firing on them."
"Sounds good, sounds good. What about me?"
"You will be disguised as a cat."
"A cat?" Thomas asked.
"It's the perfect disguise."
"How does that work? Won't it just cover part of me? I'm a lot bigger than a cat."
"No problem there. The part of you it doesn't cover will be disguised as the room around you. Won't be perfect. There'll be a shimmering quality. But with any luck they won't notice. Course, it does mean you'll have to walk on all fours."
"No one would believe a cat walking around on its hind legs, Thomas."
Man and alien arrived at the house just as the sun was officially clearing the horizon. Off in the distance a rooster crowed. Jones --disguised as Thomas-- led the way to the house. It was a cute two story affair, with a picture perfect front yard, complete with little gnomes and flamingos.
Finding the door unlocked the pair made their way into the living room, which was nicely decorated, if not overly conservative. A picture hung on a wall showed a happy family of three. A hum, seemed to fill the house. Jones followed it to the kitchen where sat piles of unwashed dishes. The hum got louder as they approached a door at the other end of the kitchen. Once opened, it revealed a staircase leading down into the basement. A light was shining from below, declaring its occupied status.
"You understand the plan?" Jones whispered.
"If you call that a plan," Thomas responded.
Carefully the two tiptoed down, until the last step, as anyone who has ever watched a movie would know to expect, gave out a loud squeak. Jones looked up expecting to see a line of guns. Instead, he found, a pile of unconscious aliens, and a militia of armed women. And who should be front and center, but Anna herself, posing for a group selfie over the bodies of Jones' fallen race.
"Tom?" Anna called happily.
"Er, Mr. Jones," said Jones before snapping off his holograph.
Suddenly a broom came down and swatted Jones into a wall.
"Stop," cried Anna, "He's the good one I told you about."
Reluctantly, the raised brooms, mops, and bats were lowered.
"Sorry," said the broom wielder. Jones recognized her as the mother in the portrait from the living room.
"What is it with you people and brooms?" Jones asked.
Anna ran up and hugged him before hugging Thomas --who had snapped off his holograph. Jones intuiting that there was a species, bond, thing going on turned his attention to the room. Two rows of beds were lined up against the walls. The hum he'd heard was in fact a generator that was powering the lights. Lastly he turned his attention to the pile of bodies noting someone was absent.
"Anna, what happened to Magnum?" Jones asked.
"Who's Magnum?" she queried back.
"The one in the Hawaiian shirt."
"Oh, he never came back after he dropped me off with his gang. What took you so long to come for me?"
"I, er, was busy. I took care of the paint factory side of things."
"I can see that. You blew it up, didn't you?"
"I did no such thing."
"Former manager did that," Thomas chimed in.
"Thanks Thomas," said Jones.
"And how much actual investigating did you do?" Anna asked.
"None that I noticed," Thomas added.
"Thanks again, Thomas. Why don't you go be helpful somewhere else."
Anna smiled at Jones who pretended he couldn't be bothered by her and turned away to radio in. A cleanup crew was quickly dispatched. 


"Alright," I grumbled, "let's see if we can make sense of this mess."
Before me in my office sat Jones and Thomas, faces covered in blue paint. Jones, the smug bastard, was smoking one of his toothpicks and drinking a glass of gin. He waived a hand nonchalantly to go on, like I was inconveniencing him. I pointed to the cigarette which he quite happily offered to share with me. Sensing I wasn't in the mood, he shrugged, grabbed the framed picture of my mother from my desk and stubbed it out.
"It's pretty much all in the report. I'm not sure what else you need," said Jones.
"Let's start small and work our way up, shall we?"
"Suit yourself."
"Why didn't you try to save any of the other workers in the factory? Alien or not, they should have been brought for prosecution."
"They weren't aliens. My people are renowned for a lot of things, physical strength isn't one of them. All robots with simple AI."
"What happened with Anna and those women in the basement?"
"They tied Anna up to one of the vacant beds, but she's my daughter through and through --well, not through and through obviously, but she's picked up a lot from me. Before she chased after Magnum she grabbed a basic kit. So, when she was down in the basement, she freed the other women and led them to victory."
"Anna did all that?"
"She did test in the 99 percentile when it came to hitting," Jones smirked.
I reciprocated the smirk. "That she did. What were they doing with all the women down there anyway? Why hadn't they liquified them like the rest?"
"As it turns out, the whole mining thing was a decoy that was meant to distract us from  what they were really doing."
"Which was?"
"Egg trafficking."
"I see. Those poor women."
I flicked a glance at Thomas who was sitting quiet but clearly angry at the mention of his people. 
"Why is he here?" I asked.
"He has a name," Thomas interjected.
"Yes, Thomas, my apologies. Jones, what is Thomas doing here? Can't we go one damn mission without you bringing someone or something back with you?"
Jones started to speak, then took a sip from his glass. Then another. Finally he drained his glass and set it down on the desk in front of him. Reaching into his suit he retrieved his flask and poured himself out another drink. Finally, he spoke.
"Do you have any olives?"
"Jones," I roared.
"Alright, I'm willing to admit I may have unnecessarily brought back earthlings before."
"24 of them."
"24. 24? Really?"
"I can show you a list if you like."
"No need. Anyway, in this instance I felt it necessary. Thomas has been interfered with a great deal."
"Probed," Thomas added.
"Probed," Jones agreed, "as well as studied and assaulted. Not to mention most of his home town was liquidated. I feel it's time we had someone like him here to address the counsel where it concerns human rights. Let's face it, Earth is getting closer to knowing about life beyond its planet. Don't you think it would be a good idea to already have an ambassador in residence when that day comes?"
"For once you make some sense. How do you feel about this?" 
My last question was directed at Thomas.
"Mr. Jones and I spoke about it at great length and I think it's an excellent idea. He and Anna have managed to convince me you're not all bad. I'd like to be here to represent my people and the little community of humans already living here."
"Besides," Jones added, "Anna and him seem to get along really well. I think it'll be good for her to have him here."
"Alright, Jones, alright. Next time though, you come back alone, understood?"
Jones stood on his chair and gave me a stiff salute.
"You know Jones," I said smirking, "For once I figured out something myself."
"What's that?" he asked.
"You knew that boy, Tom was Magnum because he wore a Hawaiian shirt too. Since all the kids were your people it had to be him."
"Actually, Tom was just a kid named Tom. He was the only kid in town to avoid being killed. Likely due to him being a rude little jerk. He and his mother were happily reunited afterwards. The whole Hawaiian shirt thing is just a coincidence."
"What? Then how did you know to go to his home?"
"The Hawaiian shirt. I thought the same thing as you, I just got lucky."
"Ha! So I was right. Even if I was wrong. That's big of you to admit, Jones. I must confess, you seem to have grown through this assignment. You've been selfless, which is a nice change."
At that moment my phone rang. I picked it up and listened to the screaming voice on the other end.
"That was the school," I said hanging up, "Anna just punched a Lesithyian in the faces."
Jones hopped off the chair, straightened his tie and addressed me.
"Gentlemen, this sounds like a job for the head of the SSSS and the new human relations ambassador. I won't keep you any longer. I shall have a highball and retire to my quarters for the evening."
With that he turned on his heel and exited the room, leaving Thomas and I looking at each other dumbfounded.
"Well," said Thomas finally, "looks like I've been probed again."

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