by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in Daily Science Fiction, March 2020
A spaceship crashed down at the end of my street this morning. Its inertial dampeners and camouflage shield must still be in working order, because it looked like nothing more than a parabola of blue light followed by a puffy white clump of cumulonimbus cloud streaking down from the sky. After the crash, the puffy cloud dissipated with the morning fog, leaving behind a boxy, non-descript, ranch-style house, painted a bland shade of tan. The paint is even peeling. Sure, the lot at the end of the street had been an empty field all winter long, but somehow people have a way of forgetting that.
To be honest, I wouldn’t know the difference either, if my own crashed spaceship — also disguised as a house — didn’t still have working sensors. But that little tan-painted ranch house practically glows with extra-terrestrial alloys and trace minerals when I check the readout on my scanner, a device that is safely disguised as an oven in case any actual Earth natives ever come to visit me.
By mid-morning, the local real estate agents have pounced on the seemingly abandoned house, and there’s a FOR SALE sign pounded into the dandelion-strewn front yard. By noon, there’s a steady stream of house-hunters, shopping for new homes to raise their families in, parking on my block, going in, and touring the disguised spaceship.
I decide to go over and check it out, trying not to get my hopes up. The chances that a crashed lump of extraterrestrial tech will have the missing pieces I need… the ultima-lithium coils… or even just an intact ansible… It’s so unlikely. If the ship weren’t severely damaged, it would never have crashed into this backward mudball of a gravity well.
I mean, I wouldn’t have.
Sure, a few things about this planet have grown on me. The roses. And camellias — such an ingenious blending of mathematics and biology. I’ve planted a bunch of them in front of my spaceship. Also, cats. Humans claim to keep them as pets, but they actually roam the neighborhood in complete independence.
I’ve taken to feeding many of the neighborhood cats on the back porch I devised out of the broken left wing of my crashed ship. The ship’s AI has been working on translating their vocalizations. Cats are far more intelligent than most humans give them credit for, with an oral tradition that dates all the way back to Odysseus’s cat, far less famous than his dog Argos, but a far better poet.
As I step through the open door of this newly crashed spaceship, an eager real estate agent comes running to greet me. Behind her, I see several house-hunters frowning at the the jumble of threadbare furniture that the ship’s camouflage circuitry has generated to disguise its actual ultra-high-tech appliances. The agents have clearly done their best to dress the orange-and-green striped couch up with a classy throw blanket and tried to hide the water damage on the table (nice touch!) with doilies.
This spaceship doesn’t want to attract attention. I can tell it’s doing its best to look like the set from a thirty-year-old sitcom… after thirty years of gathering dust. The agents, who’ve descended like Aldebaran vulture-hawks, aren’t playing along with its wishes. They think they’ve found a quick-sell fixer-upper.
I need to find the ship’s main computer and figure out if there’s anyone still aboard. Anyone like me. You know, extraterrestrial.
I head to the kitchen. Since that’s generally the most appliance-heavy room, it’s the easiest way to disguise a spaceship’s control room. Sure enough, after I fiddle with the toaster, oven, and refrigerator — pretending that I’m just checking them out, you know, to see if I want to buy the house — the microwave starts scrolling text at me in Betelgeusian Lingua-Standard on its little screen.
“HELP,” the ship says.
I lean in close to the microwave, open its door, and whisper into it: “Is any of your crew here?”
“ALL EVACUATED. AM ABANDONED. HELP?”
With my heart in my throat — literally, because that’s what happens in my species when we get emotional — I choke out the words to ask about each of the pieces of tech that would let me repair my own ship enough to escape the crushing gravity here.
“NO, NO, NO,” the microwave says, written out in little green lights. “ALL BROKEN.”
“Well, what have you got?” I ask, trying not to feel too disappointed. Or too worried about how one of the agents is looking at me. Who cares if a human thinks I’m weird? Humans only have brains in their heads; whereas I have distributed brains in each of my limbs. So, take that dumb humans. Hah!
Anyway, the ship computer lists off its working assets for me, and I nod along, thinking about what I can do with each of them. They’re not bad — better computer banks, far range sensors, anti-grav units. A lot of fun stuff that would seriously upgrade my own ship if I stripped this one down.
But mostly, all I can think about is what I can’t do: which is go home to Betelgeuse.
Oh, well. Odysseus’s cat’s great-great-great-great-great-great-etc-etc granddaughter, Iris, would be disappointed if I weren’t here for Tuna Tuesday next week. Besides, we’re working on an epic poem of our own together. It’s either about the space battle that led to my spaceship crashing here… or maybe about some fish in a koi pond a few doors down that Iris wants to eat? I’m not sure. My ship’s AI still has some work to do on those translation algorithms. This ship could probably hammer out cat language by the end of the day, and throw in some algorithms for translating dog barks too. Although I’m pretty sure all they’re saying is, “Hey!”
I tell this new ship that I need to go home and think about what to do, but words stream across the microwave’s display, begging me not to leave it alone here with these primitive humans.
“What do you want me to do?” I whisper into the microwave.
“BUY ME,” the ship answers. “WILL FORGE PROPER DOCUMENTS.”
“Okay,” I say, “but I already have a house. I mean, spaceship disguised as a house. YOU know what I mean.”
“MAYBE,” the microwave hazards, “YOU NEED HOME IMPROVEMENTS?”
“Maybe,” I concede.
By the next day, the real estate agents are all gone, disappointed. The FOR SALE sign is gone. And the house is gone. Well, relocated.
When the delivery guy brings my monthly shipment of cat food and tuna to the door, he says, “Did you get some work done on your house?” He’s looking up at the brand new second story, clearly trying to figure out when I’d had time to have my house remodeled since, well, yesterday when he made a delivery on the other side of the street. And apply a fresh coat of green paint.
I just say, “Yeah, you like it?”
“It looks great!” he says, putting the confusion out of his mind as humans always do. “I love the color!”
Iris purrs and weaves her way between his legs, barging into my newly double-decker house. She’s already meowing poetry in praise of the crate of tuna and all the new second-story window sills to explore.