Phil Gardner 2004
“I call it simply ‘The Detector’.”

They look at me in silence.

“Possibly with a little ‘TM’ sign afterwards. You know those TM signs? They’re kinda cool aren’t they?”

Still nothing.

“Or an ‘R’ in a circle…”

The suit in the middle leans forward. “Well you can call it whatever you like, Mr…”

“Pending. Pat Pending.” They look at me coolly. “It’s a stage name, obviously. If you want to get ahead in this business, you’ve gotta have a stage name.”

“Indeed. And let us all pray that the name of this particular stage of yours is ‘Temporary’.”

“I’m sorry?”

“As I was saying, Mr Pending, you may call your invention anything you like. The point here is that WE will not be calling YOU.”

“Are the phones down again?”

Left-Hand Suit stands. “Mr Pending. Pat. We will not be calling you because this company does not need to invent methods of detecting bankruptcy.”

“No, no, not bankruptcy. Aliens."

He ignores me. “Now take your tin box...”

“’The Detector’.”

“… and detect the nearest exit.” He ushers me towards the door.

“I’m willing to compromise on the TM sign..?”

The door is slammed in my face.

Well really. Those guys have no idea what they’re dealing with here. This is my life’s work. I’ve spent six months on this baby. Well, apart from all the time I spent at the beach with my other baby, Charlene. But face it, I put a good couple of weekends into this thing. ‘The Detector’. The world’s first stainless steel extraterrestrial spaceman sniffer-outer. Of course, I didn’t design it to be metal. It was going to be all carbon fibre right down the line, but in the end it kinda made sense to build it out of my Mum’s breadbin. So I dumped the graphite at the drawing board, and went with a fully functioning, all-singing, all-dancing, heavy metal ‘Detector’. It makes no difference really. Just means you can’t take it through airport security in your hand luggage.

Thing is, it works. Probably. Turn it on, get the wind in the right direction, and shizzle my nizzle, you’ve got the exact location of any space aliens in the neighbourhood. Of course, I haven’t proved that yet - it only has a range of a few miles, and let’s face facts: how many alien landings do you get around here on the average weekend? Well I dunno. But that’s why I built the machine.

And what’s more, if those suits don’t want to sell it to the world, that’s their loss. They want to leave interplanetary contact to some buck-toothed yokel out in a field with a bottle of moonshine, that’s up to them. But me, I wanna be a little more proactive.

So I figure I’ll prove it works, THEN sell it to the multinationals.

Back home, I set up The Detector in the kitchen and make myself a sandwich from the loaf of bread on the side. Mum just leaves it lying around these days, no idea why. I eat to the sound of the soft beep of extraterrestrial searching.

Half an hour passes. Then an hour. I check the readout for pulses. Just a few scraps of peanut butter, nothing more.

And then it happens. The unmistakable honk of alien proximity. The needles go wild. I look at the electronic location finder (formerly the bagel compartment). It’s coming from the beach. It has to be aliens. Or Charlene. Either way, it’s got to be worth a look. This is where planning comes into play. It just so happens I designed The Detector to be portable. It runs off a car battery. So I load the machine and battery into my backpack and prepare to leave for my interplanetary date with destiny.

I ask my Dad for a lift, but his car won’t start. I decide to cycle instead.

Twenty minutes later and I’m climbing over the rocks towards the point, and the hidden beach beyond. It takes me almost an hour - I should have left the bike back at the pier. Too late now. Rounding the point, I emerge in the secluded cove and cycle down to the water line. It is low tide. Excitedly I take The Detector from my backpack, attach the battery and turn the dial. The intricate crunch of sand against a dozen moving parts greets my ears. I hastily sweep The Detector back and forth with my sleeve, removing the worst of the sand, whilst considering the possibility of a more up to date model suitable for beach use.

On the fifth sweep, The Detector beeps the beep of the righteous. Aliens at six o’clock! I turn, and there before me stands the mighty vindication of all my hard work: an extraterrestrial craft, coloured lights flashing on and off as a sign of interplanetary peace, or possibly dodgy wiring.

I approach on foot, glancing back momentarily to see the handlebars of my bike disappearing beneath the incoming tide. No matter. Who needs a bicycle when I have my very own space hopper right in front of me. I begin to hum the theme from ‘Close Encounters’, and sure enough, the door of the craft slides back with a satisfying thunk. I watch open-mouthed as a group of four intergalactic beings descend the steps and approach me. They stand in silence. It is down to me.

“Welcome to Earth, my friends.” They don’t respond. I try again. “Na-noo, na-noo.” I think I saw that on a documentary. It seems to go down well. The aliens look at me with three eyes each, then turn to each other and nod all eight of their heads. I am a hit. They usher me towards the door of their craft. As I reach the top of the steps I read the bright neon lettering above the entrance: “Zarkov’s ‘Pick-Your-Own-Earthling’ Mobile Burger Bar”, and walk into a room full of aliens holding buns.

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24th July 2004

Welcome to Earth
by Phil Gardner