The idea for this story came to me when I was in a cinema watching an SF film, one of those about aliens coming to Earth. I thought, ‘what if aliens came to Earth with gifts that didn’t explode in blue fire?’ It was, obviously, too dark in the cinema to write anything down. So, I vowed to remember it and carried on enjoying the film. Luckily for me and you, my dear reader, I did remember it, although I never did write it down. Until now.
* * *
Graham Langdon was nervous for the first time in years. He was head of PR at a very prestigious technology company, had many years of experience and was good at his job. He’d met kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, and once, an emperor. But he’d never met an alien.
They’d arrived on Earth with very little fuss. They did the visual equivalent of clearing their throats, everyone turned around and there they were. Luckily for all life on the planet, they hadn’t arrived to steal our resources, breed us for food or enslave us to mine some radioactive compound. Instead, according to the aliens themselves, they’d just ‘popped in to visit’.
Today, one of the aliens was going to visit the facility, and Graham was going to show it around. The humans were too polite to ask them their gender, but speculation was rife. A vehicle pulled up outside, interrupting Graham’s chain of thought. It was like a cross between a large van and a futuristic battle tank. The side door opened and out stepped the alien. It was about five feet tall, three feet wide and very rotund. It was wearing what looked like an old sack, which shimmered in the sunlight. The first word that came into Graham’s head when he looked at it was ‘tortoise’.
The alien turned its deep and friendly eyes on Graham and walked towards him. Although they were ringed by security, it was decided that this would be a one-to-one meeting; the aliens really didn’t like fuss.
“Hello,” Graham said, his voice a little high-pitched. He bowed his head slightly.
“Hello,” replied the alien, its voice deep and smooth. “Nice to meet you.” It then bowed its own head, holding the position for five seconds.
“You too. My name is Graham, welcome to our technology centre.”
“Thank you, Graham. My name is Too, that’s T O O, not the number. I’m looking forward to my visit.”
Graham noticed the alien was holding a small package, which looked like a gift, but the alien didn’t offer it to him, so maybe it was something else, like their equivalent of a handbag or phone.
“I thought we’d start in the laser lab, then move on from there,” Graham said with a smile.
Too nodded its head slowly, “That sounds most interesting, please lead on.”
As the tour continued, Graham noticed Too’s interest waning. Of course, he could just be reading its body language wrong, it was an alien after all. He tried to stay upbeat and smile a lot, but with each new department, the alien grew less animated. Finally, they arrived at what Graham considered the most impressive piece of technology in the whole facility.
Graham opened the door and led the way over to the wide windows of a viewing gallery.
“This is our particle collider,” he said with a flourish. “The ring is over ten kilometres in circumference. It’s the work of thirteen nations working together.”
Too nodded, “Well, yes, that’s certainly impressive, lots of tunnelling, I would imagine.”
“Indeed. The ring passes right under the hill above us, under the nearby town and even under a river. It took six years to construct and was brought on line only a few months ago. It’s already giving us some very interesting results.”
Too nodded again. “That’s wonderful. I imagine it uses a lot of power.”
“Yes, it does. But we have our own sub-station here, and batteries charged by wind generators and solar panels.”
“Interesting.” Too nodded and then stood silently, looking into the far distance.
“So, that concludes our tour, effectively.”
Too certainly perked up at that news.
“Now, traditionally we would go to lunch at this point, but I’m told you can’t eat our food.”
“Unfortunately, not, at least for the moment. It’s been a very interesting tour, thank you, Graham.” The alien stood still for a few seconds, then became more animated. “We also have our traditions. One of which is giving gifts when we leave a gathering, in small recompense for our departure.”
“Oh, that sounds like a lovely tradition,” Graham smiled, anticipating receiving something like the alien equivalent of a commemorative mug.
Too offered the gift to Graham but seemed reluctant to let go. Finely, good manners prevailed and the gift was handed over. Graham took the small package with a smile and quickly opened the box. Inside was an object about ten centimetres square, with a flat panel on the front. The panel lit up when Graham touched it.
“I’ve had the user interface translated for you,” Too said.
“Yes, I see. What is it?”
Too stepped back a few paces, only answering after several seconds had passed. “It’s to put on your desk, I believe you call them executive toys.”
“Thank you very much.” Graham touched the green ‘Go’ button, the unit hummed slightly, and a chart appeared on the display, neatly labelled. “Hmm, that’s interesting. Er, what, exactly is it for?”
“Oh, well, you see… when you press the button, it, well, sends particles whizzing around inside and then… there’s the result.” Too nodded.
Graham’s mouth dropped open. “You mean, it’s a particle collider?”
“Yes, yes, it is.”