“Man that is…way, way worse than what I was thinking,” Ramierez said about a half-hour later. He had been silent during Anya’s description. He only visibly reacted when Felix or the pangolin spoke, or Anya summoned fire or her menu to prove what she was talking about. Now he stared at the floor of the V-187 and the pangolin sitting beside him with a vacant, stunned look.

“Aliens. Literal aliens? From space?” Ramierez asked.

“Yup,” Anya confirmed. “It wasn’t some guy in a suit, or a weird robot, or whatever other excuse you’re thinking of. That puppet that killed your partner was some kind of killer extra-terrestrial.”

“Sent after you?”

“Sent to Earth. He was only after me because the other aliens sent these menus things to help us repel the invasion.”
“And one of those menus is in this little guy that you stole from a zoo in South Carolina?” Ramierez asked and looked down at the pangolin.

“Yes,” Anya said, then looked at the pangolin. It was sitting with its tail to one side, hind legs spread across the seat. Anya confirmed that the pangolin was indeed a little guy and not a little gal, then added, “I only stole him to keep the zoo safe. It wasn’t just for fun.”

“Uh-huh,” Ramierez nodded. “And all this stuff about menus being sent here for defense, is according to that thing.”

Ramierez jerked his bruised chin at Felix. The AI gave him a thumbs up. “Yes!”

“Another alien,” Ramierez said.

“No, I was born here on Earth!” the AI insisted.

“Man, you’re an alien. Shut up,” Ramierez grumbled.

“Hey, don’t be mean to Felix,” Anya said. “Only I get to snap at him.”

“Did I do something?” Felix asked and his eyes widened in fear as he turned to Anya.

“No, Felix, I’m kidding. It’s fine. You’re doing great.”


“Well I sure can’t tell my captain any of this,” Ramierez groaned and flopped back into the leather seat. “I’ll be fired on the spot, or sent to a psych ward or something.”

“Look, I’m really sorry you’ve had to go through all of this. Avoiding other people was the main reason I stayed in the park last night. I didn’t want anybody else to get dragged into this.”

“Well people at the station were losing their shit,” Ramierez said. “Three cops murdered like that? Fuck man, my partner had his fucking face melted off. And I’m the only witness and everybody thinks I’m crazy or a sociopath for ‘joking’ about what happened! The sarge was even saying they might bring me up on charges if I don’t get my story straight!”

“I’m sorry,” Anya repeated. “I don’t know what to tell you. I spent all weekend trying to figure out how to contact you guys, the FBI, NASA, SETI, whoever, and then the aliens showed up and everything went to hell. Now I’m just trying to find somebody else like me to plan with but that hasn’t worked out like I was expecting either.”

Anya directed her gaze to the pangolin. He leaned his head to one side and blinked his large eyes at her.

“Expecting,” the pangolin repeated. “Ecckkss-speeect-iiiing.”

“What’s he doing?” Ramierez asked.

“He learned English right before you came to. He’s just trying it out, I think,” Anya said. Ramierez gave the pangolin beside him another look and scooted away from it. The pangolin scooted next to him again and Ramierez sighed and looked back at Anya.

“So what then? You gonna kill me or something now that I found you?” Ramierez asked.

“What? God, no. I only punched you because I thought you were gonna arrest me or shoot me. Hell, the second time wasn’t even a decision, just a reaction. I was in the process of leaving my apartment for good when you knocked on my door. I was gonna leave you here and then go find more hosts. Hopefully human ones.”

“You knock me out twice, I get suspended because of you, and now you’re gonna leave me in a field in Jersey? You’re fucking cruel, lady. Something wrong with you.”

Anya rolled her eyes. “You can’t come with me. You’ll just get killed like the other cops last night.”

“Who said I wanna go with you? Just don’t leave me out in a field in Jersey.”

Anya looked down at Officer Ramierez. She’d wanted to alert the cops and the feds just yesterday. Now she had one right in front of her who had witnessed everything first-hand.

“Gimme a sec,” Anya said and stepped out of the V-187. She shut the door behind her and cut off Ramierez’s protest, then called Tori. Her friend picked up before the line had time to finish its first ring.

“Hey! What’s up? You okay? Did you activate the pangolin? Is it cute?” Tori asked in a rushed whisper.

“I’m fine, yes I activated the pangolin, and yeah he’s kinda cute but twice as big and really, really obsessed with ants. And he speaks English now.”

“Wow,” Tori said, her voice low.

“Why are you whispering?”

“I came into work after all. Figured it would keep my brain busy and give me a solid alibi for the zoo thing if my face got on CCTV or anything. Cops aren’t gonna believe I went to South Carolina and back in the span of an hour or so.”

“Yeah about that,” Anya said, and then told her about Ramierez.

“So he knows everything,” Tori said.

“Pretty much, but I didn’t mention you,” Anya agreed. “Although I was thinking of dropping him off with the feds with some video proof or something.”

There was silence on the other end of the line.


“Yeah I’m here. You should do it. People are in danger. The people in that zoo were in danger and didn’t even know it. It’d be stupid to try and hide this with everything going on. And if that means maybe I get arrested for stealing a pangolin with you…oh well, I guess. I’d do it again. But you have to promise to break me out of jail.”

“You’re sure?”

“Not a hundred percent, but there’s no playbook for what’s been happening. If the cops or the feds really wanna get on my case for helping my friend protect people instead of worrying about the alien invasion, that’s their problem. But I’m serious about you busting me out of jail. You got enough felonies now that one more won’t make a difference, and making toilet wine in a cell upstate isn’t what I wanna do with what remains of my twenties.”

Anya snorted and let out a laugh.

“I don’t deserve you,” she said. “But I swear if the cops show up on your doorstep that I will break you out.”

“Great. Then do your thing. I’m gonna keep pretending things are normal here at work, but call whenever.”

Anya thanked her friend again and hung up. She took a moment to collect her thoughts before she opened the V-187’s door. Ramierez and the pangolin didn’t even glance up at her as she stuck her head inside.

“——ants. Digging good. Ants? Digging? Both good. You dig?” the pangolin was asking Ramierez.

“No, uh, not really,” he replied. “Not a big fan of ants either.”

“Big fan?” the pangolin asked and turned to face Anya. “Fan?”

“Having a nice chat?” Anya asked.

“This little guy has about two things he likes talking about,” Ramierez said. “Kinda thinking I might have a major concussion after you hit me. Maybe this is all just in my head, y’know?”

“It’s not,” Anya said. “Believe me. And I hit you on the chin. You shouldn’t have that much head trauma.”

“Look, I’m glad you’re not gonna kill me, but please don’t ditch me here. Just drop me off in Brooklyn near a bar or something. Nobody’s gonna believe this shit and I might as well enjoy my suspension.”

“No,” Anya said, and held up a hand before Ramierez could protest. “I mean, I’m not just dropping you off in Brooklyn so you can get day-drunk. I’m gonna take you to 26 Federal Plaza, and you’re going to tell the FBI everything.”

“What? Did you not hear the part where everybody at the station thinks I’m a nutcase? Why would the feds think any different?”

“Well first of all, the cops in your station might be a little too emotionally invested to listen to something so crazy, even with evidence. Second, the feds will think different because I’m going to give you evidence to show them. Felix!”

“Yo!” Felix said.

“The data we got from the alien last night, the positions of the other invaders, can we download that to a computer or something?”

“No, sorry,” Felix said. “I told you, I can’t access outside systems like that.”

“Right, shit. All right, Ramierez, here’s the deal: I’m gonna give you your phone, and you’re gonna start recording a video. You will continue recording until you actually get in to see somebody at the FBI. That way you have the whole thing, start to finish, and they can’t say you just edited it or something. Make sure you get the pangolin in some shots too.”

“Shots?” the pangolin asked.

“Picture,” Anya said. “It’s okay, only good stuff.”


“No, no ants.”

“Aw,” the pangolin’s snout drooped.

“You’re really just gonna let me go? To the feds? I mean, I know your name and address and stuff,” Ramierez said.

“Yeah, and if you found me this quick, it’s only a matter of time before the feds do. Granted, they’ll have to deal with paperwork, unlike a suspended cop on his own, but they’re still gonna find me. I’m not comfortable with turning myself in yet, so you’re my best option for now. Better they hear about me from somebody whose ass I saved and actually knows what’s up. ”

“You also punched me. Twice,” Ramierez said.

“And I also saved your life, once. And killed a homicidal alien, and rescued another host from a public place where dozens or hundreds of civilians might have been at risk.”

“Me?” the pangolin asked.

“Yes, you,” Anya nodded then looked down at Ramierez. “Look, I can’t make you not tell them I’m a monster or alien, but I’d appreciate it if you were honest about what I’ve been trying to do. And I’m sorry for punching you.”

“I guess I understand,” Ramierez said. “I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same if it were me. This is all way past what I can imagine dealing with.”

“Thank you,” Anya said with a smile.

“Y’know, it might help smooth things over if you give me some info on where the other menu people like you are,” Ramierez said.

Anya frowned and folded her arms across her breastplate. She had considered it when she had asked Felix about downloading information. The hosts wouldn’t be in any more danger from the feds than they were from the aliens, and it might actually save lives having cops around. It could also cause the other hosts to freak out if they were discovered by the authorities. All it would take would be one panicked cop or agent to shoot a host and have them retaliate and make a mess of things. That was all assuming they could locate the hosts given the very vague locations Anya had to work off of.

“Felix, can you show Ramierez the map of the world but just with the enemy alien positions?” Anya asked.

“Of course!” they said and brought up the map sprinkled with the shining red points of light. “These were only the exact positions last night, however. They could have moved quite a bit since then.”

“The host positions are vague,” Anya told Ramierez. “I don’t know exactly where anybody is, but these alien locations are all precise as of last night. I figure you’ll have better luck going off these than just some huge general area.”

There were fifty-two glowing red dots across the lower forty-eight states, one on Maui, and five in Alaska. There were another forty-nine aliens scattered across Canada, twenty-two in Mexico, and seven sprinkled over the various islands of the Caribbean.

“Yeah, the feds can cross reference any weird shit and mobilize teams to go looking. Assuming they believe any of this,” Ramierez said. Anya uncuffed him and gave him back his stuff, including his phone and empty gun. He asked Felix to zoom in as much as possible on the red dots across America and took pictures of them. Felix included street names and addresses where available on the map, and after several minutes of this, he’d gotten all of the red dots along with multiple zoomed out pictures of the rest of the world.

While he did that, Anya removed her armor and put it and her tactical belt in the back of the V-187 with her glaive. The armor was light and mobile, but she didn’t relish the idea of sitting down in it for long or scratching up her leather seats if she could help it. That reminded her that she would need to talk to the pangolin about pooping wherever he pleased.
“Got enough?” Anya asked Ramierez.

“Yeah, I think so,” he replied. “Want me to start filming?”

“Maybe step outside first, get a shot of my ride turning invisible.”

“It can do that?” Ramierez gawked at the V-187. “Damn.”

“And you,” Anya said to the pangolin, as Ramierez stepped out, “don’t poop in here. Or scratch my seats.”

“Poop?” the pangolin asked.

“What you did on the floor of my apartment. Making shit come out of your butt.”

“Butt,” the pangolin said and looked down. It twitched its nose and widened its eyes with understanding. “Oh! Old ants.”

“Old ants,” Anya repeated. “Poop. Shit. Crap. Turds. You do that outside.”

“Old ants go outside. Poop. Shit,” the pangolin said and looked out the open door of the V-187. “Now?”

“Do you have to poop now?” Anya asked.

“No. Ants are still new,” the pangolin said and patted its leathery tummy.

“Then you’re fine, but tell me if you have to poop.”

“You ready?” Ramierez called from outside. He held his phone and Anya gave him a thumbs up. “Okay, filming!”

She kept the door open for Ramierez as she turned the stealth on. He said something she couldn’t quite pick up as the V-187 turned invisible. He entered the craft and swept the camera to the side to get a shot of the pangolin.

“…and this is the pangolin that went missing from the Riverbanks Zoo earlier today, I’m told,” Ramierez said.

“Small land,” the pangolin said. “Too small, but good ants.”

Anya shook her head as she closed and sealed the door.

“I guess you’re gonna take off now?” Ramierez asked and got shots of her hands on the silver discs, and out the window as the V-187 rose into the air.

“Uh-huh,” Anya said.

“Whoa,” Ramierez said.

“Oooooh,” The pangolin said as Anya steered to the side and flew back toward Manhattan. She gave a very quick recap to Ramierez and his camera, and had Felix pop-up to explain things while she steered.

“…so I’m just trying to not get killed and keep other people from getting killed, and would really appreciate some help so long as that doesn’t involve throwing me into a secret prison or dissecting me or whatever,” Anya finished as she neared 26 Federal Plaza.

“Should I get your number or anything?” Ramierez asked. Anya looked at him over her shoulder and quirked an eyebrow. “For professional purposes!”

Prior to Friday night, a young officer like Ramierez asking for her number would’ve made her pretty happy, even if it was just for professional purposes. Now it just reminded her that anybody near her was in danger. “I suspect the feds will be able to find it easily enough if they want to call me, or I’ll call them. No offense.”

“None taken,” Ramierez said and smiled. “And thanks for saving my ass last night.”

“I’m just sorry I couldn’t do anything for the others,” Anya said. She lowered the V-187 down with no more speed than a falling leaf, and stopped inches above the ground in the middle of an open courtyard surrounded by plants. Several people paused to glance at the sudden breeze and the shimmering space in the air, but many others never even glanced her way.

“All right, get going. I’m trusting you to not make me sound like a freak or anything,” Anya said.

“I’ll do my best,” Ramierez said.

“I just don’t want anybody else to get hurt.”

“Me neither,” he said and then reached forward and shook her hand. “Good luck.”

“You too.”

“Nice meeting you Felix,” Ramierez said and the orange AI grinned.

“It was very nice to meet you too! I hope your government doesn’t try and kill my host!”

Ramierez snorted then turned to the pangolin. “Good luck with being smart and all that digging.”

“Smart now,” the pangolin agreed. With that, Anya opened the door of the V-187. People definitely noticed that. A shimmering section of the air rose aside and revealed Ramierez as he stepped out, as if from nothing. He made sure to pan around and get all the stunned, confused faces on his phone, and then back to Anya.

“See you later, maybe,” Ramierez said.

“Maybe,” Anya agreed and then shut the door. She took a deep breath and hoped she had done the right thing. “Felix, bring up the map with the rough position of the hosts.”

“Where to now, chief?” Felix asked as the map appeared before her. The next nearest hosts were up in Massachusetts. Three dull orange circles of various sizes were centered around Boston and another two not far from Worcester.

“Boston,” Anya said.

“Boston,” the pangolin repeated. Anya smiled at the little guy.

“And we’ll need to think of a name for you,” she said, and then moved the guidance discs forward and left Manhattan behind.

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