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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2206436
An otherwordly observer gets a visit from the home office.
Checking In

You could spot him coming from six blocks away - unintentionally awkward and perfectly terrified. As Earth’s only official Observer, I was his assignment, and he probably drew the short straw. Most of the Quoria couldn’t stand it here, and couldn’t understand why I so willingly stayed.

Sure, I got their message, relaying my exact contact location in the park - “wearing sunglasses and feeding the pigeons.” It was a beautiful San Francisco day, the air crisp, and the aromas from Chinatown almost intoxicating.

The usual Envoys they sent were all pretty jumpy, and this new guy was no different. Same plain gray suit, perfectly pressed, he anxiously glanced back and forth on his way, absolutely ready to leap for dear life at any time. Unfortunately, a group of college kids crossed his path, laughing and celebrating. “Oh, this should be good,” I mused to myself. Horrified, my contact quickly dove into a nearby alleyway, only poking his head out again after he was sure the coast was absolutely clear. Ridiculous.

Easing into the park, his gaze suspiciously scanned every child, vagrant, and stray cat. Even a group of Tai Chi grannies got the dreadful look. I tried not to snicker, just staring casually from behind tinted lenses.

Finally, he found me.

Approaching the edge of my collected flock, birds suddenly scattered and he shrieked, pulling away, horrified with clenched eyes.

“It’s okay bro,” I consoled. “It’s safe.” He opened one reluctant eye, then the other. “You guys are something else.” I peered over the rims of my sunglasses. “First time on Earth?”

“Is it obvious?” he winced and I nodded. “You’re Watcher Budrin?”

“Buddy,” I corrected. “Only my old Hatcher calls me Budrin.”

“Buddy, then.” He smoothed down the edges of his suit. “You’re overdue for your report. They sent me…”

“Has it been a year already?” I interrupted.

“It has.”

“No shit?” I shrugged, moving my glasses up into my unkept hair.

He didn’t answer, confused.

“Sorry…local aphorism,” I explained. “So, you’re here to check in on me.”

“Indeed.” He suddenly flinched as a squirrel scampered by.

“Nervous one, aren’t you?”

“Well, the last Envoy reported that his mouth was set on fire. He said he nearly died.”

I burst out laughing. “Kung Pao Chicken! A bit spicy, but better than those damn nutrient pellets.”

“Spicy?” He didn’t understand. “Pellets provide the nourishment we need.”

“So Bland.”


“Dull,” I clarified, but he didn’t understand. “Dreary? Uninteresting?” Still, he had no clue. “So…you! All of you!” I rose and placed my hand upon his shoulder. “Dude, there’s a whole universe outside the drab gray walls and manufactured boredom of the Quorum.” I inhaled deeply. “I love it here. This place changes you. And our people need more of it. Let me show you,” I said, and we disappeared.

The soft ocean breezes in Maui suddenly met us. I picked a nearby mango and he backed away when I pulled a pocket-knife to shave some away. “Try it.”

Doubtfully, he took the piece from my hand, studying it like research project.

“You’re supposed to eat it.”

A hesitant bite, then he eagerly consumed the rest.

“You see?”

“What…what is this?” he grinned a mumbling mouthful.

“Potential, my man. Want to try some more?”

He nodded and we disappeared again, reappearing atop Monte Rosa in Switzerland. The wind and snow bit deeply, and my companion instantly flinched away. “Exhilarating, isn’t it?” I winked, and we quickly vanished again.

Around the globe we flashed, in and out. From the Egyptian pyramids to the Kalahari plains, Victoria Falls to the Grand Canyon. We sampled exotic landscapes, the finest human art and music. Finally, we returned to the little park in San Francisco. “Well?”


“I think the word you’re looking for is ‘amazing.’”

He nodded, then remembered “But their propensity for bloodshed? This is a dangerous assignment. They kill their own,” he whispered, like I didn’t know.

“Bingo. A paradoxical race – a balance of ultimate compassion and terror. Absolutely fascinating. Still, their potential for beauty is unmatched in the universe.”

“So, that’s why you stay,” he realized.

“You understand.”

He nodded.

I dropped my sunglasses back over my eyes and smiled, reclining back into my bench. “Then, maybe there’s hope for you. I’m sure these Earthers will outgrow even us. You’re one of the few to really get that.”

“So, should I report back that all is well?”

“Everything’s great. Hey, you wanna grab some Chinese?”
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