Universal Alien
Available December 2, 2014 from DAW Books

The former President of India, Abdul Kalam, shared a lovely sentiment – Look at the sky. We are not alone. The whole universe is friendly to us and conspires only to give the best to those who dream and work.

He’s totally right that we’re not alone, of course. But with all due respect, Former President Kalam is dead wrong about the entire universe being friendly to us. There’s a lot of “others” out there, and while some are all for helping good ol’ Earth, there are plenty who think we should be avoided, enslaved, or destroyed.

George Carlin said that if it's true that our species is alone in the universe, then I'd have to say the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little.

I know he’s right. I just know there’s more out there than we’ve seen. I look for it, sometimes, when I feel alone. I look for all the “others” out there. So far, unless they’re in a comic or a book or a movie, I haven’t found them.

I’m not sure what’s actually more surreal – that the universe is teeming with life of all kinds, or that I’ve somehow gone from being a single marketing manager to the wife of the Vice President of the United States in just under five years.

Oh sure, there was a lot in between “there” to “here” – much of it filled with having to fight many very bad things, both extraterrestrial and very terrestrial. Humans are really the worst though. We’re devious and nasty on a scale that, thankfully so far, none of the aliens showing up to visit or move in, seem able to manage. I’ll take a fugly space monster over most of the human megalomaniacs I’ve dealt with over the years.

Being married to an alien, at least one from Alpha Four of the Alpha Centauri system, is the highlight. Well, our hybrid and scary talented daughter is a highlight, too. Jeff and Jamie make all the change and general surreality that has become my daily life worthwhile.

Sometimes, I wonder what it’s all about. I mean, we have a pretty great life, and I love my family. I’m a good wife, mother, and daughter, and I do things that matter. But there are days when I just can’t do anything right, and I wonder what’s wrong with me.

Oh, of course, I have bad days. Sadly, since becoming the Second Lady, or whatever I’m really supposed to be called now, there’s a lot of pressure. Shockingly, with more public scrutiny comes more ways for me to screw up. And there are days when I wonder what’s wrong with me.

Sometimes, I just want to see what it would be like, if things were just a little different. Maybe not a whole lot different, just enough to where I could do something more, be something more…be something else.

Sometimes, I just want to know what it would be like if I was me, but maybe a little less unwillingly famous and a whole lot more competent on the regular people things I sometimes seem incapable of managing with anything resembling smoothness or competence.

Some days, I just want to be somewhere else. A place where I do everything right.

Some days, I’d really like to be somewhere else. Where everything I do is right.

Hey…is there an echo in here?

Chapter 1

My brains oozed out of my ears.

Not from being shot or something. From boredom. Massive, stultifying boredom. Boredom on a scale so epic I didn’t think anyone could really fathom it. I could barely fathom it and I was living it.

Cheers went up from those around me. Well, not most of those immediately around me. I was surrounded by Americans. Sure, more than half of them were actually aliens either originally or first or second generation out from Alpha Four in the Alpha Centauri system, but still, living in and raised as Americans. And this was not an American pastime.

“You’re sure this is cricket? I mean, the game. The game that millions of people around the world supposedly love?”

This earned me a dirty look from everyone near me, American or no. I’d tried to keep my voice low, but apparently cricket shared something in common with that most boring of Scottish games that had immigrated to the U.S., golf, in that the fans were hushed unless something “exciting” was happening on the field.

I wasn’t actually sitting next to my husband. As the newly minted Vice President of these non-cricket-mad United States, Jeff was sitting a couple of rows below me, with now-President Armstrong, and the Australian Prime Minister. Technically, as his wife, I should have been sitting with them.

Wiser heads had prevailed, however. Despite a great deal of effort and patience on the part of the Head of the C.I.A.’s Extra-Terrestrial Division and the American Centaurion Public Relations Minister – otherwise known as Charles Reynolds and Rajnish Singh – after a week’s worth of immersion, I still hadn’t been able to grasp or enjoy cricket.

Since we’d been in our mid-twenties Chuckie had lived half the year in Australia, and Raj had been born and raised in New Dehli. Ergo, they both actually enjoyed cricket. In fact, Raj was quite a rabid fan, and Chuckie had an Aussie team he supported. Meaning if anyone was going to get this game through to me, it should have been them.

Only, it took the complexity of baseball, the slowness of golf, and the bizarreness of croquet, and managed to turn them into something that, sports lover that I was or no, I just couldn’t manage to follow, let alone like.

The hope had been that I’d have picked up enough to have the light bulb go off while watching a live match and suddenly become an expert. Hope might have sprung eternal, but it was definitely being dashed against the wicket today, because I still wasn’t sure where the wicket was, let alone what it was, or why it existed, other than to be the current bane of my existence.

It didn’t help matters much that the entire point of this extravaganza was because the Australian government was visiting to show support for both the new administration in particular but also aliens in general.

Because of Operation Destruction, the entire world knew aliens lived here. The entire world also knew that there were a lot of different alien races out there, and some of them really hated humanity. Of course, some of them liked us just fine, in part because we’d given the exiled A-Cs a home.

However, there were still a lot of people around the world who felt that aliens were the worst things to hit Earth, and they wanted us gone. Off planet, in work camps, or merely wiped off the face of the Earth, they weren’t picky. What with Jeff and then Senator and now President Armstrong having had a surprise landslide win, having a known alien a heartbeat away from the presidency had all these anti-alien groups in a tizzy of epic proportions.

Australia had its share of alien haters. Club 51, our biggest, most coordinated anti-alien enemy, had made a lot of inroads into Australia, meaning one of America’s biggest allies had a huge anti-alien population.

So it was vital for us to make the Australian Prime Minister and his retinue feel happy and comfortable. The PM was a huge cricket fan, hence this game. That I was supposed to feign excitement about.

Wished I’d studied acting instead of business in college, because, despite my desire to be a good wife and representative of my constituents, I was failing to convince anyone that I liked this sport.

The fact that we’d spent money to fix up the stadium where the Redskins played football to look like a cricket field didn’t help. They weren’t my team – we might live in D.C. now, but I remained true to my Arizona Cardinals and their tradition of usually losing – but I’d have committed many major felonies to have seen the Redskins trot onto the field and toss the pigskin around. I couldn’t pick a Redskins player out of a lineup, but still, football was a sport I understood and enjoyed.

I loved baseball, too, but neither the Washington Nationals nor my beloved Diamondbacks were going to be showing up to save my day. There were lots of guys on the field who, from the program, were quite cute. Not that you could really see them. So I didn’t have that distraction going for me. And when I could see them they were standing around in a giant circle or running back and forth along a small strip of dirt in the middle of the field, so far, far away. For whatever reason, this didn’t make my Sports Gene go wild.

My phone beeped and I dug it out of my purse. At a normal sporting event I’d never have heard it. At this one, not a problem. Of course, I wasn’t supposed to spend time on my phone when we were at public events such as this one, but our daughter wasn’t with us and the text could be about her.

Sadly, it was from the head of Alpha Team. James Reader was none-too-gently suggesting I plaster a look of enjoyment onto my face. He wasn’t technically at this event – Alpha Team’s job was to protect, not to be the face of American Centaurion. Had no idea where in the stadium Reader and the others actually were, other than nowhere I could see them. However, they could see me, and I looked, if I took his text to be accurate, “like you’re about to die while passing gas.”

Sent a reply text with one word – “charming” – in it. Wanted to say other words. But my Secret Service detail had clued me in – I had no such thing as privacy anymore.

Dropped my phone back into my purse as people nearby gasped. Something was happening on the field. It appeared to be exciting, based on the crowd’s increased murmuring. Couldn’t tell what the heck it was. Looked around. Right now would be a great time for a parasitic superbeing to form, or for an intergalactic invasion to happen, or something else that would alleviate the boredom. Waited hopefully. Nothing. Apparently the Powers That Be liked cricket. Or had been bored into inactivity.

“When is the halftime or intermission or whatever?” I asked Raj. Again, tried to keep my voice down, but apparently the acoustics in this stadium were great, because I got another host of dirty looks.

“There isn’t really a break like that, as I’ve explained.” He managed not to add “over and over again” but I could see the thought written on his face. “We’re watching a T-twenty game, so there will be a short intermission in about an hour.”

We’d already been watching this for an hour and had been here even longer. I wasn’t sure I could stay conscious for another hour without moving around. And there were at least two more hours to get through after the short 10-20 minute intermission. And this was a “short” game. “Real” cricket could go on for days. Had to figure this game had been created to use as torture for political prisoners and wondered if I could invoke the Geneva Convention as a way out of the boredom. Probably not. My luck never went that way.

Plus I was uncomfortable. Under normal circumstances – you know, before my husband had somehow become the Vice President – I’d have been in jeans, my Converse, an Aerosmith thermal of some kind, and my nice, warm snow jacket. Or I’d have been in what the A-Cs, who were love slaves to black, white, and Armani, always wore – a black slim skirt, a white oxford, and black pumps, with a long black trench coat.

Because we were now among the most public of figures, I was required to pay a lot more attention to what I was wearing. I’d also been assigned my own color – iced blue. I was in iced blue as much as I’d been in black and white before. In fact, I missed black and white, I was in this blue so much nowadays. This meant, therefore, that for this event I was in an iced blue pantsuit, with an off-white Angora sweater, and high-heeled boots that were of a neutral color. And pearls. Supposedly I looked great. I felt remarkably stupid dressed like this at a sporting event.

Chuckie got a text and grunted. “You need to pretend to be having fun,” he said. Either his voice hadn’t carried or everyone else agreed with him, because no one shot the Evil Eye towards us.

“I’m trying.”

“It’s not working.”

Made up my mind. “Then, I’m out of here.”

Want the rest? Pick up your copy from your favorite bookseller on December 2, 2014!

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