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American Moat

Hamilton — everyone called him Ham — had fully bought into the bacon-as-fashion fad. That night as he patrolled the Arizona border with Alex, his ensemble featured a bacon wristwatch, bacon suspenders, bacon bolo tie, and bacon boots branded with the image of a pig cutting bacon out of its stomach and eating it raw and loving every lip-licking bite.

Ham’s t-shirt was comparatively subtle. It read, “If I Were Muslim, My 2nd Wife’d Be BACON.”

This shirt offended Alex. Not because it was anti-Islamist, but because it was poorly written. If you’re making a t-shirt about loving bacon and having multiple wives, shouldn’t you make bacon the first wife? You really want to wear a shirt advertising to the world that you love your wife more than bacon? That’s not funny. That’s half-assed.

And Alex was sick to death of half-assed. That’s why he’d volunteered to join MOAT: Maintaining Our American Turf. No pay, no benefits, and it was BYO everything: badge, booze, ammo, porno, everything. But it was a small price to pay to serve your country. Let Mexicans cross over to American soil so they could take American jobs and sponge off American services, all while America foots the bill? Not in his America.

Between the guns and the porno and the camaraderie with other patriots, patrols were the social highpoint of Alex’s week. But the watch tonight was uncharacteristically unfun. Ham and Alex reclined on the hood of Alex’s blue-and-rust truck — backs against the windshield, rifles on their laps — not speaking. Alex had tried to explain to Ham how half-assed his shirt was, which led Ham to the conclusion that Alex hated freedom.

They might have sat sulking side by side all night long had not Ham seen, from between his bacon boots, two figures in the distance walking blithely toward America.

Ham smacked Alex’s arm and said, “Look, Alex! Our first Mexicans! It’s go-time! It’s show-time! Rock ‘n’ roll!” etc.

Ham was already hugging his rifle and rolling off the hood of the truck by the time Alex had raised his binoculars. He saw a man and woman. They looked white, but some Mexicans do. The man wore a tuxedo with a lavender ruffled shirt, and sported pomaded black hair and a mustache so precise he must have trimmed it with a stencil. He was Fred Astaire thin and seemed to have no trouble trekking through desert terrain in tuxedo shoes. The woman was every bit as light on her feet, even though she wore a red flamenco dress and black flamenco heels. She carried a folded fan in one hand and her skirts in the other, and she had a huge red flower tucked behind one ear, burning like a star against her brunette, tightly-bunned hair. The pair did not look like people who’d risk their lives hiking through the desert for days in order to violate American immigration policy. They looked happy, clean and hydrated, like a rich couple leaving a Spanish-themed costume ball.

They were still a ways off, chatting and laughing amiably, when Ham reentered Alex’s field of vision. Ham was chugging toward the couple faster than Alex thought he could possibly move, the bacon suspenders struggling with all their might to keep his buttcrack from showing. A losing battle.

“Ham!” Alex yelled as he mobilized. “Stand down, stand down!”

But Ham had played this scenario out too many times to stand down now. He dropped to one knee and steadied his rifle. Sort of: its aim heaved along with his chest. “Freeze! Mexi! Cans!” he yelled between breaths.

“Oh, we aren’t Mexicans, Ham,” said the woman. Neither Ham nor Alex should have been able to hear her so clearly from that distance. It was like her voice had emerged from within their own heads. That made Alex jump.

A few seconds later, Ham flinched. His cholesterol-coated reflex arcs took a little longer to react. “The hell you know my name, lady?” he asked finally.

“We are aliens,” said the man. He sounded exactly like Ricardo Montalban, may he rest in peace.

“Exactly!” said Ham, straightening his aim. “And we’re here to stop aliens from entering this country.”

“No, numbnuts,” said the woman. “Not Mexican aliens. Actual aliens.”

“Extraterrestrials,” the man added helpfully.

That word, “extraterrestrials,” had come from Alex. The man had reached into Alex’s brain and borrowed it. Alex could feel it. It felt like the man was a cook searching for a recipe and Alex was his recipe box. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling, exactly. But if you haven’t agreed in advance to serve as someone’s recipe box, it’s a bit of a violation.

Alex, now next to Ham, patted Ham’s rifle until it pointed at the ground. He grabbed Ham by his left armpit and lifted him to his feet. Looking at the man and woman, he said to Ham: “You’re a slow-witted fuck and these really are aliens. I need to think, so I’m going to buy us some time. Follow my lead.”

“Yeah bro,” said Ham, his rifle still pointed at his own left boot.

Alex walked over to the aliens until they were in hand-shaking range. “You say you’re extraterrestrials? Prove it.”

“Sure thing,” said the woman. “How?”

“Well, show me something alien. What can your kind do?”

“Oh,” said the man with honeydripping Montalbanity, “we can manipulate matter in ways that will seem godlike to you. How about we fulfill some minor wish of yours?”

He squinted at Alex for a moment, and then, smiling broadly at what he’d discovered there, turned Alex’s truck into Margaret Thatcher.

The Iron Lady wore one of her classic no-nonsense skirt-suits — this one a flattering powder-blue — and sensible heels. Her hair was a petrified corona of orange dye.

“Couldn’t you at least have imagined her in a bikini?” said Ham.

“Show some respect, shithead,” said Alex out of the side of his mouth, straightening himself as Thatcher strode toward him and shook his hand.

“Alex. Pleasure to meet you,” she said.

“It’s truly an honor, Madame Former Prime Minister,” said Alex. “You’ve been a hero of mine ever since I was a kid. I would follow you even unto the gates of Hell.”

Thatcher nodded once at him, as if she accepted his fealty and, indeed, might someday call on it. Then she walked over and greeted Ham, then each of the aliens.

“Alex is a big fan of yours,” said the Montelban look-alike. “You are literally his dream come true. Ham, by contrast, only vaguely knows who you are. He is currently trying to picture you wearing a bacon bikini.”

“What? No,” Ham protested, but he could tell no one believed him. So he changed tack: “Just how deep into our heads are you, aliens?”

“I don’t know about my friend,” said the woman, “but I’m far enough into your brain to serve as your conscious: a position, by the looks of things in here, that’s been vacant for a long time. So as my first act as your new conscious, I’m recommending that you seek professional help. Nobody needs that much porno, bro.”

“I’m too weak to stop,” agreed Ham.

Thatcher crossed her arms and said, “Enough chit-chat. Have you aliens come to invade Earth?”

“Oh,” said Alex. Then: “Oh!”

“What?” asked Ham.

“These aliens,” said Alex, cottoning on even as he spoke, “are obviously powerful enough to destroy us without breaking a sweat, seeing as they were able to fashion a perfect Margaret Thatcher out of a Chevy. But we’re still here, so total annihilation doesn’t seem to be what they’re after. So maybe invasion is the plan. Is it?”

“No,” the man said affably.

“Then what?” pressed Thatcher.

“We are explorers,” said the woman, circling the humans, fanning herself. “We seek to befriend all intelligent life in the multiverse. Do you know how the multiverse works?”

Ham and Thatcher shrugged. “I saw a special on the History Channel,” said Alex.

“Here you go,” said the woman, and inserted into their minds a complete understanding of the multiverse.

“My God,” said Thatcher.

“It’s so beautiful,” said Alex.

“They should have sent a poet,” said Ham.

“As you can see, it’s all very complicated and very interesting,” the woman continued. “So we’re making site-visits to all sentient lifeforms and to learn as much as we can from them.”

“But we have rules,” added the man. “We always approach a new civilization cautiously, inconspicuously. We wear the local bodies, partake of the local metabolism: you know, try to blend in.”

“Dressed like that?” asked Ham.

“Our research indicated that these were appropriate costumes for this location and time. Are they not?”

“Not unless you’re an extra in a Zorro movie,” said Alex.

“You see?” said the woman. “There’s only so much you can learn from afar. That’s exactly why we’re here.”

“We don’t make contact with leaders at first,” the man picked up. “We don’t want to become pawns in the local planet’s political maneuverings. Instead, we meet with common folks like you. Get the lay of the land, see if this is a good time to begin a conversation with the species. Only when we’re satisfied that all the planet’s sentient species are ready to join the greater cosmic community do we share our technology with them.”

“Like, how to turn a beat-up 2008 Chevy Silverado into the greatest stateswoman ever to grace world politics?” asked Alex.

“You’re too kind, really,” blushed Thatcher. Briefly, their eyes met.

“That’s nothing,” said the she-alien. “We will teach you to manipulate matter in ways that will redefine what it means to be human. Poverty, privation, and scarcity will all be a thing of the past. Economics as you know it will cease to exist, and with it war itself will vanish. You will no longer be bound to Earth and its finite resources. You will travel the stars, like us, and forget all about your petty governments squabbling over pitiful tracts of land or trickles of water. You will become citizens of the Cosmic Interbrane. Our arrival will begin a new evolutionary stage for humanity.”

Alex and Ham looked at each other. “That sounds great,” Alex said breathlessly.

“We’ll be heroes!” said Ham, breathily.

“You shall not pass!” exclaimed The Iron Lady.

“Madame Former Prime Minister?” questioned Alex.

“You’ll need to take this up with the American government, Mr. and Mrs. Alien. Otherwise, you will be in violation of U.S. sovereignty.”

“Excuse me, truck-woman,” said the she-alien, “we’ve already told you our rules expressly forbid us from beginning our interactions with a new species through a governmental entity.” She fanned herself testily.

Thatcher put her hands behind her back and, with a lawyerly air, paced around the aliens as she spoke: “So you’re saying that you specifically do not want to deal with any governments before you determine if humanity is ready to accept the gift of your advanced technology. And if you do deem us ready, then your technological gifts will allow us to manipulate matter so effectively that poverty and war will cease to exist, and as a consequence Earth won’t need ‘local’ governments anymore and instead can join whatever ruling body it is that you belong to. Do I have all that right?”

“Yes, that’s more or less it,” the man said uneasily.

Thatcher turned to Alex and Ham. “This is an invasion, plain and simple. If you help these aliens do what they want to do, you will be aiding and abetting in the very destruction of the United States of America as you know it, and indeed, the entire world. Do you want to destroy America, Alex and Hamilton?”

“No!” knee-jerked Ham.

“No,” said Alex more slowly, “but this is an unprecedented situation, Madame Former Prime Minister. We’re being given a chance to achieve world peace.”

“Gentlemen, I believe in duty,” said Thatcher. “Did you not promise to protect the Arizona border against aliens trying to enter your country illegally?”

Alex began to lose his patience: “Oh Jesus in a jumpsuit, Maggie, no one was talking about these aliens! We were talking about Mexicans.”

“Just Mexicans, Alex?”

“No, not just Mexicans,” Ham adding helpfully. “People from Central and South America and the Caribbean, too. You know, poor people. Who usually speak Spanish. Sometimes French. But not Canadians; they’re all right.”

But hearing his position in Ham’s mouth lent Alex clarity. “Madame Former Prime Minster is right,” he said, his voice reluctant but resigned. “An alien is anyone who is not a citizen of the United States. Period. We are not authorized to grant legal alien status to anyone we meet on this border, no matter how many trucks they turn into conservative luminaries. Our sole mandate is to keep unauthorized aliens out. And right now, these two are unauthorized. Illegal.”

“You are welcome,” Thatcher sniffed at the aliens, “to apply for a visa through the proper channels.”

The man nodded with disappointment; the woman fanned herself dejectedly. “Well, so that’s that,” said the man.

“That is not that!” yelled Ham. “Don’t go, aliens! Teach me how to turn trucks into women. I need that power! I give you permission to stay!”

“No you don’t, Ham,” said Alex. “Not unless you are a hypocrite.”

Ham stood looking alternately at the two aliens, Alex, and Margaret Thatcher. He felt strange. If this were any other day in his life, he would have just let his rage guide his actions. But now he was one of the world’s leading astrophysicists. He looked up at the star-dappled sky, wonderstruck by its grandeur. Then, unable to suppress his newfound causal-reasoning skills, he heaved a Pontius-Pilate sigh and said, “Mr. and Mrs. Alien, please contact the government of the United States for further instructions as to how you may maintain a legal residency for the duration of your stay.”

“You know we can’t,” said the woman. “What a disappointment.”

“All this way for nothing,” said the man, tsk-tsking. “Well, I guess we’ll be leaving, then.”

“You will not just talk to someone else, try to get a different answer?” asked Thatcher. “You will leave, just like that?”

“Your response has made it abundantly clear that Earth isn’t ready to join the larger interstellar community. I mean, the U.S. is the largest military and economic power on Earth. It has a history, stretching back to its very founding, of welcoming aliens and enriching its culture through the power of emigration. On paper, you seemed to us like the perfect people for us to contact.”

“And you said no,” the woman added bitterly. Alex and Ham felt the alien presences leaving their minds. A sudden existential wind course through their bodies.

“Aliens?” Ham said meekly.

“Yes, Ham?” responded the woman.

“I’m wondering if you could do me a favor before you go.”

“We’re not granting any more wishes.”

“I don’t want you to grant a new wish, I want you to undo the shitty wish you granted Alex, the one that cost us world peace and awesome superpowers. Can you please turn Margaret Thatcher back into a truck?”

“What?” yelled Thatcher. “Now wait just a — ”

“Is that what you want too, Alex?” asked the male alien, straightening his mustachios with his pinkie.

Alex looked at Madame Former Prime Minister, his longtime hero, a voice of integrity and resolve at a time when reasonableness and common sense seemed out of vogue. He’d always dreamed of sitting down one-on-one with her and hashing out the planet’s problems, shooting them off a picket fence like so many lined-up bottles. The world needed more Margaret Thatchers, that was for sure. And tonight — a miracle! — it had been granted a second one.

But there was sand in Alex’s boots. “Well, it’s too far to walk home,” he said.

“No!” screamed Thatcher, shielding her face, but there was nothing she could do. A moment later she turned back into a rusty Chevy Silverado idling fitfully in the Arizona night.

Originally published in A Robot, A Cyborg & a Martian Walk into a Space Bar, Nomadic Delirium, 2015. 

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Carlos Hernandez
Carlos Hernandez is the author of The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria, published in 2016 by Rosarium. By day, he is a CUNY Associate Professor of English, with appointments at BMCC at the CUNY Graduate Center, whose specialities include game-based learning. Look for Meriwether, the Lewis and Clark CRPG on which he served as a designer and as lead writer, on Steam Greenlight in the coming weeks!