Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
Paris, France
December 31
Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
A reader, a writer, a fingernail biter, a cat person, a traveller, a cookie inhaler, an immigrant, a dreamer. …And now, self-employed! If you like my blog and if you're looking for sparkling writing, painstaking proofreading, nimble French-English translation, or personalized travel planning, feel free to check out


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OCTOBER 7, 2011 3:28PM

Cultural Exchange

Rate: 19 Flag

“He’s back again,” she peered anxiously through the blinds into the dark desert night.  Why did it have to be so dark?  Maybe they were afraid to order streetlights because the locals would sabotage the vehicles.  Would they?

“Shh!” he chided from the armchair.  “It’s back on!”

“But that man’s in the lot!  He’s going to try to steal from us again!”

He gave a sigh.  “Ah, let him steal.”

“Let him?! But it’s against the rules!  And you’re the one who’s supposed to be enforcing them!”

“Don’t worry,” his voice became a near-whine of complaint at her persistence.  “He won’t get far.”




This time he’d come covered in black head-to-toe.  Ski mask, even sunglasses – which were harder to wear at night than old songs might suggest.  He’d painted the white details on his sneakers to fit in with the darkness.

The lot was deserted, and badly lit.  These bastards didn’t want to add any streetlights anywhere, it seemed like.  Probably didn’t want to give any more jobs to the locals. 

Pretty soon he was where he’d gotten to the last time, when that big hulking security guard had yelled at him.  He hadn’t been scared – he just hadn’t wanted to bother getting into a conflict, when he was sure he could simply outsmart the jerk another time.  Now he turned a dim corner and – the space pods were hovering in a neat row, their bioluminescent lighting making a faint, pulsating glow in the desert night.

He approached one towards the middle – that way, he’d be harder to spot if someone came by.  He glanced around, then took a flashlight and a folded piece of paper from his pocket.

A few minutes later, confident the diagram he’d printed off the internet matched the silhouette and what he could see of the dashboard through the window, he noted where the space pod opened, and opened it.  Then, he got inside.

It was actually easy to operate.  He wouldn’t say it was well-designed; it was more the fact that he’d spent months studying for this.  He’d thought about going to the Exposition Park to see a real model on display in daylight, but of course that was all a conspiracy – why would that technology be available for people to observe closely?  It was just another way to placate the humans.  They knew how to push the right buttons with those damned liberal hippies who’d taken over the government: the aliens had arrived “in peace,” they’d said, which was clearly a line lifted from a movie.  They’d said they wanted to co-rule the earth and work with human governments, promoting cultural exchange.

My ass, he thought, shooting an angry glance at the house on the other side of the lot, where he knew the security guard lived.  There was a faint, flashing blue-white light coming from one of the windows.  Probably testing out weapons.  

In a few seconds, after he’d pushed the right combination of buttons, the pod was revved up and ready.  He pushed some more buttons – and the pod hurtled into the sky.

Up, up, upupupup – he was through the atmosphere in no time! The earth far behind him, he looked around, stunned by the stars – so much more of them up here.  He knew the ship ran on starlight, and he could travel limitlessly.  Freedom.  He looked around.  Where to, where to?

There was the moon, and then, well, he could fly over all the planets of the solar system beyond Earth.  But nothing too close to the sun – or one of those damned black holes or… Were there black holes around here?  In the solar system or the Milky Way?  Where was the nearest one?  

An idea rose up in him that he really didn’t like:  He knew nothing about space travel – nothing about where other life forms were, at least.  All that stretched before him was as strange and useless to him as those crazy scribbles you always saw on blackboards in the background of photographs of Einstein. 

Basically, he realized, he didn’t know where to go. 

Still, he stayed there, looking out in all directions at the cold majesty of everything.  He stayed, he stayed, debating.

Two hours later, he realized he had to pee.  He took out the diagram, and noticed for the first time that there was nothing marked as far as toilets went.  Did aliens even use toilets? Had anyone asked them?  He faintly regretted not paying attention when they’d done the unit on Alien Studies back in high school.  One thing he did know for sure: if there wasn’t a toilet, he couldn’t empty bladder or bowels inside the pod; after all, he couldn’t open a window afterwards.  He crossed his legs and stared out again into the endless star-studded blackness.

A short while later, numbly he turned the pod earthward.  He couldn’t even appreciate how perfectly he landed the craft right back into the spot he’d taken it from.  He opened the pod and got out, closing it behind him.  Then, still feeling nothing except horrible pressure on his bladder, he walked back across the parking lot, not looking up at the soulless sky above him as he vaulted the fence, paused to pee against the side of it, and headed back home.




At the window, she gave a start of surprise as the pod touched down.  “He came back!”

“Of course he did.”

“But why?”

“Think about it – what’s up there for him?  His kind don’t know anything about habitable and inhabited galaxies and such.”

She gave an impressed whistle.

“I was sent to Earth for my wisdom, remember?”

She nodded.  “True.”

“Okay, now that the pod’s back where it belongs, will you come sit down? Jersey Shore’s about to start!”



This week's Fiction Weekend Prompt was: The world has been invaded by aliens, and we haven't been able to fight them off.  Instead, we are now ruled by them. What is life like under our new alien overlords?  

Everyone is welcome to participate in Fiction Weekend!If you're inspired by this idea, why not write a story?  If you do, please go hereto announce it in the Comments section.

And if you want to read other OSers' takes on this idea, feel free to click here for the stories list in the Comments section of the post. 

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If only they could all heed Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino's wise words: "Nobody gets excluded from ravioli night"!
Yes, it will always be our creature comforts which bring us back down to earth. A nice, humorous use of the prompt. Next time I bet he brings an empty Clorox bottle along for the ride.
The cold majesty of everything and then he has to pee. Nothing like nature calling reminding us of our frail humanity. This was a fun use of the prompt.
Alysa, thoroughly enjoyable story (sighs contentedly). My absolute favorite part, though, is the very end. I've noticed you're so good at springing the unexpected on us at the end. Love that!
That's quite an imagination you have there, Ms S. Having to pee is the bane of our existence; I've always thought that. And aliens probably don't! Very entertaining story.

Tee hee! You can run, but you won't get very far if you have no place to pee. I was amused that the thief thought the security guard was testing alien weaponry when it was only the TV.

How long will alien intelligence last if he's watching Jersey Shore? =o)

oh this is just too good.
"All that stretched before him
was as strange and useless to him
as those crazy scribbles you always saw on blackboards
in the background of photographs of Einstein"
he's gotta pee.
Lost, scared in an unknowable universe,
tormented by his biological destiny ,
might as well
settle back and watch 'JERSEY SHORE'
in creature comfort complicity. hah!
Two hours hovering. Wide open adventure, or home and restroom. Some bladder. Must of been a waiter, or line cook at some point in his life.

Verrry smart ending. Orange glow tans, hyper sex lives, tears, dancin' and fights was unexpected ending. I think you were tongue in cheek in saying that, we, might have been conquered, but have we, really? Controlled existences coincide- alien ruler and kept human (one by transportation restrictions (no bathroom on pod) and the other by reality TV). Clever!
You do have the talent and humor too!
Wow. That was very well done.
Now I wonder if the pod's fridge was stocked. Sit back, look at the stars, sip a beer. Then you have the pee problem again.
Alysa, thanks for the great story and if he had been thinking in terms of Star Trek, he could have "gone" 'where no man has gone before'--right up in that particular quadrant of space!
Hahaha! Jersey Shore???? Too funny~
The universe for a pee. Love it. I've been in similar situation, albeit a tad closer to home.
Wait, being ruled by aliens is fiction?
I like how funny this story is. Thanks!
What's with the alien fiction this week?? Did I not get an invitation?? ::)))))
Thanks for reading, guys. I'm glad you were with me on the importance of having to pee. :-)

Shiral - As toiletless space pods are a trap for humans, so might my beloved "Jersey Shore" be a trap for aliens.... On the other hand, I'd have less of a problem being ruled by alien overlords who watch "Jersey Shore"...I think.....

Mango - We are totally on the same vibe, and thanks.

Stim - Exactly. I don't think there's any way you a human could possibly win.

designanator - Haha! I hadn't thought of that....

Susie - "Jersey Shore" is one of the brightest stars in the galaxy of my own personal universe.....Not sure if that's a good thing....

Chicken Maaan - Boy do I hear you!

Cranky - Hmm....not sure if it's completely fiction...but I can't imagine those ruling us now like "Jersey Shore"...which you might think is a good thing.... :-)

Brazen Princess - Of course you were invited - as is anyone who wants to participate! Basically, I run another OS blog called "The OS Weekend Fiction Club". Every week, usually on Monday, I post a writing prompt. Then, on Thursday night or Friday morning, I publish a post where people who've participated announce their stories in the comments section. They can continue announcing their stories throughout the weekend.

Everyone is welcome to participate - the only requirement is that a post be a work of fiction.

To read more about it, and to check out the other stories this weekend - AND to announce your own story if you feel inspired, please feel free to click on the link at the end of my post, or just type "OS Weekend Fiction Club" into the search box at the top of the screen, to get to the blog. I hope to read a story from you soon!
We often forget the simplest things. ;)
You wrote fiction! Hurray! I was with you as soon as you wrote: "even sunglasses – which were harder to wear at night than old songs might suggest" and when "There was a faint, flashing blue-white light coming from one of the windows. Probably testing out weapons" turned out to be THAT SHOW. Indeed, that show should be classified as weaponry :-) But then, oh Alysa, you live in Paris—the center and height of Western culture—and yet watch . . . that . . .show :-( Maybe it isn't seen as such a crime by people who don't live in Jersey. (Horsing around aside, good story!)
Science fiction is one of my many weak points so I cannot comment fairly on this, Alysa. Even more embarrassing is that I thought Jersey Shore (spelled slightly differently) was the moniker of a blogger until quite recently. I'll rate for imagination and humor.
Really clever. So many funny bits. I wish I had written this.
Seth - Thanks for the inspiration for the prompt - it was a lot of fun. As for my love of "Jersey Shore"...I can't explain it. I just love those crazy kids and the delicious Italian meals they cook up - makes me a bit homesick, even though I never did hang out with the guidos, and the last time I was at the Jersey Shore was a family vacation.....I just can't help myself.

Fusun - Thanks for reading - and no worries; I'm not a die-hard sci-fi fan, either. I wanted this to be something more universal, about things that mean a lot to me in any context: the annoyance and impediments presented by bodily functions, and the utter delight I take in watching "Jersey Shore." As for the fact that you didn't know the latter was a show until recently, I think most people would say that's a good thing! :-)

ASH - I'm so honored! But what you write is really cool and very unique - much more original than this!