The illegal alien

Charlie Jones was an extra on the set of a second-rate science-fiction series, but he never took off his costume. He couldn’t. The other actors just thought he was a method actor, that staying in his costume meant staying in character. They didn’t know how he could possibly endure the heat in that suit, or how he got the fake fur to be so lustrous and soft. The trick is that it wasn’t a trick. He really was an alien. Sure, he wasn’t a “Graglethorp” or whatever silly random assortment of letters the writers came up with. He was an Acthun, of the planet Acthunis, in the Gamma quadrant. Of course, his people didn’t call it the “Gamma” anything, seeing as they didn’t know Greek and they certainly didn’t think of themselves as third in line. “Gamma” only makes sense if you think of yourself as first (Alpha) and you’ve already found your first neighboring quadrant with more planets. It was kind of how many indigenous cultures simply called themselves “The People” since they had no reason to differentiate between themselves and other humans. As far as they know they were the only humans.

Charlie Jones had an Acthun name, but it wasn’t pronounceable to humans. Their tongues would need to be bifurcated in order to get the right trill. And even if he said it humans tended to cover up their ears because the pitch was so high. So he came up with a “normal” name, one that wouldn’t mark him as foreign. He really needed this job to work out and couldn’t afford to be discriminated against, even unintentionally. He had a family at home that was depending on him to send back money.

He couldn’t wire transfer it, or mail it. PayPal wouldn’t work for off-world bank accounts (not yet). So once he got his check cashed, he’d photograph half of the money, email the picture to the neighborhood administrator (who had a Gmail account like everybody else) and then burn the money so he couldn’t use it. The administrator would then credit his family’s account with the appropriate amount (once the exchange rate was taken into consideration) and then they could pay their bills.

There weren’t a lot of bills to pay, but even a little is too much when you don’t have an income. Only Charlie was allowed to work, being the only one in the family above 20 and below 50. And male, of course. Everyone else was forbidden by law to work, it being seen as too much of a hardship. Most Acthuns worked the same job nonstop for 30 years and then retired, some to plenty and some to poverty. The jobs were chosen for them in high school. It was believed that by then your personality and aptitude were locked. Everyone took a series of tests and their appropriate career was computed for them. Some care was taken to ensure that the job would be something they would like and be good at it, but it wasn’t an exact science. Mistakes were sometimes made, but usually the citizen just quietly endured, or took up drinking cactus wine to cope.

But not Charlie. He’d been unhappy with his job since the first week, after the (inadequate) apprenticeship was over. He was sure the counselor had made a mistake, maybe swapped his test with someone else’s, or transposed a number when typing in the data. S/he assured him that wasn’t possible because s/he been doing this job for 20 years and there’d never been a complaint.

S/he was an exception, a non-male who was allowed to work. Not a female, and yet not a male, but something other, undefined. The Acthuns understood that there were shades of reality, that rarely was anything 100% one way or another. They understood the concept of “gray” and were amused that was the term for extraterrestrial visitors used on Earth, along with “alien”. So they had a third gender, and these citizens were allowed to work if they wanted to, and could choose any job not already assigned to a male. But they were not obliged to work and could collect the same communal salary that unattached females and seniors were entitled to if they had no male to support them.

But Charlie had to work. It wasn’t optional. And he certainly didn’t want to work in the factory he’d been assigned to. Not for even a year, and certainly not for 30 years. He just couldn’t bear the idea of it. Why had he chosen to be born male? All children were told us – told that they had made a “soul contract” before being born as to who they be. This may or may not have been true, but it was a good story to keep the citizens in line. This way, they thought of their lot in life not as something done to them, but somehow their own fault.

Charlie was a renegade as far as the Acthun way went. He refused his assignment, rebelled against the convention that he chose his unfulfilling and frankly unsuitable career, and even his gender. So he sweet-talked a former classmate and stowed away inside the first transport ship to Earth. The Acthuns regularly made trips to and from Earth to restock and refresh from the vast breeding supply of cows there, who they used as mates. Their own gene pool had gotten shallow over the decades-long war/famine on their planet and they needed new blood. After enough survey teams had tested Earth’s nearest analog to their biology and found it acceptable, the ships began removing cows to use as broodmares. They never took bulls after that first unfortunate incident. It was decided that Acthun males could mate with the cows, but the females would only mate with other Acthuns. The cows were shipped back after five seasons, out of concern some do-gooder would start expecting them to be granted citizenship. Imagine that! A cow, a full citizen! It had been brought to the planet as a servant, a slave, even.  It could not be thought of as even remotely equal to them. That would upset the entire social system.

Charlie had no plans of being an Earth citizen. He was on the planet illegally, a true alien. So he kept a low profile – as low as possible, looking how he looks – and tried to make enough money to support his family and hopefully enough more to pay to get a second (and hopefully better) career assigned to him when he returned.

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