We were both drinking cans because it was Thursday night. Jon was smoking. The telly was crap so we had MTV Rocks on. You know where you are with MTV Rocks, the Chilli Peppers and Chop Suey and Korn and all that, stuck in a perpetual loop. Reliable.
‘You still hear from them aliens, then?’ I asked around a mouthful of Stella. You know where you are with Stella as well. Well, until you’ve had a few.
‘What?’ It took him a while to answer. He’s been brooding a lot recently, about Diane.
‘Them aliens,’ I said. ‘They still sending you messages?’
‘Oh. Yeah.’ Jon stubbed out his roll-up. The ash tray was full. It was all you could smell when you came in the flat. I didn’t mind though. It was homely.
‘They been saying anything interesting?’
He coughed and lit another ciggy. ‘Nah. They were just asking about my mum. And they showed me some star maps and some other stuff. They always seem to get in touch when I’m doing something else so I tend to forget about it. I’m quite distracted these days.’
‘Right.’ I rolled a cigarette myself, to keep him company. I’m trying to cut down but it’s not going that well. ‘How is your mum?’
‘All right, I suppose. Getting old, you know. Too much time on her hands. She just sits at home and reads those conspiracy sites and worries. Drives me nuts.’
‘Yeah,’ I nodded. ‘Mine was like that.’
Jon lifted another can from by his feet and opened it, sucking up the froth. I cracked one myself, just to keep him company. ‘So they show you anything cool?’ I said.
‘Dunno. Here, have a look. I reckon they’ve hacked my phone.’
He frowned over his Samsung for a bit trying to find the right app or whatever. Then he sat back in his chair and fiddled with it a bit more and stabbed at the screen until bright light came out of it.
There was an image floating between us and the TV, turning in the air and filling up the room, lit up in ghostly neon blue. It was like a big football with spikes all over it, with weird pink veins spread all through its surface. I got up to get a better look. I walked right through it and stood by the net curtains, holding my beer. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the windows in the other tower blocks all lit up with the flickering of people’s tellies.
‘They call it an atomiser, but not like for perfume though,’ Jon said. ‘You seed them in the oceans and they find all the plastic and junk floating about and break them down into their base atoms. It’s good for the environment and that, I think. Then there’s this.’
He pressed at his phone again and the football disappeared and a fat cylinder thing replaced it. It had tubes sticking out at both ends. Then it split open so you could see its insides, a series of different-sized chambers and circuitry and nests of more pipes like a plate of spaghetti. I could see the Chillies dancing around on the TV right through it.
‘What is it?’
‘Cold fusion reactor, it says somewhere. You put them by the ocean and they run on seawater. There’s a smaller version as well that looks like a suitcase. You can take it wherever.’
‘Cool. Can you get them on Amazon?’
Jon touched his phone and the image disappeared. ‘Don’t think so, mate.’
‘Have you told anyone about this? Could be worth a few quid.’
‘Nah. The aliens said to keep it under my hat for a bit, they’re gonna put it up on the internet or something. They’re just speaking to a few people first, to get their reactions, you know, like an opinion poll. Don’t know why they’re on at me, to be honest.’
He gave me a look. ‘Anyway, no one from the council will speak to me. They all think I’m a nutter after that incident outside the school a few weeks ago.’
I sat back down in my chair. Besides the telly and a little table, our armchairs were the only furniture in the living room. We hadn’t done much with the place since we’d moved in but that’s divorce for you. Things drift. ‘Yeah, that was pretty bad, you could have played that better, mate, looking back,’ I said. ‘Diane still not letting you see the kids?’
‘What do you think? Not til we’ve agreed a proper settlement, she says, as if I’ve got anything to settle with. It’s very demoralising, Phil.’
‘Yeah.’ I finished my Stella and headed for the fridge in the kitchenette. ‘You want another cold one?’
‘Go on then, chief.’
‘There’s a Mars Bar in here as well. Jumbo one. You wanna split it?’
David McGillveray was born in Edinburgh but now lives and works in London. After a long period of silence, lockdown inspired (if that’s the right word) him to start writing again. This story is one of the results. His fiction has previously appeared in Space & Time, Wyldblood, Kaleidotrope, and the recent Canadian anthology Strange Wars.
Martin Hanford lives in Ledbury and has been an illustrator for over 25 years, mainly sci-fi and fantasy, although he was once asked to draw a cow! As well as illustrations, Martin has produced numerous album covers and novel covers, and doesn’t get mistaken for the Where’s Wally guy too often.
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