The sun shone brightly upon the sandbox. Inside of it, dozens of Barbie dolls, Ken dolls, and her older brother’s G.I. Joes, dressed up in Ken’s clothes, lay on all of Olivia Giles’s mother’s dishcloths. She had found some little paper umbrellas on her parents’ bar and planted them all over the sand. Earlier, Olivia had dragged her kiddie pool next to the sandbox, as it was the best approximation of the ocean she could manage. She added a few of her toy animals to the scene, and then it was perfect—a beautiful day at the beach for her twelve inch tall friends.
Olivia gazed proudly at her handiwork. Soon, it’d be time for the ultimate drama play— what happens when Barbie’s dog steals Ken’s towel? The toy dog, assisted by Olivia’s delicate 9-year-old hands, tugged at the dishcloth upon which Ken, clad in swimming trunks, was trying to lay out and catch some rays.
The dog in Olivia’s right hand almost won the struggle, but the Ken in her left hand was pulling back with all of his might.
“Bad dog!” Ken said, through Olivia’s voice.
“Arf, arf!” the dog replied, also using Olivia’s voice.
Their conflict was at a standstill for a good thirty seconds until it was interrupted by a flash of light and the high velocity impact of a small, but dense object in the middle of the beach scene. It landed in the water, sending droplets spraying everywhere. Olivia dropped both toys, screamed, and scrambled out of the sandbox.
When the mix of smoke, vapor, and the miniature sandstorm that the object kicked up had dissipated, floating inside the kiddie pool was a metal disk, about the size of an extra large pizza.
“What the… what the kitty litter was that?!” Olivia screamed. She was always told not to swear, but she sometimes just had to, so “kitty litter” was her profanity of choice. At least it wouldn’t get her in trouble at school.
Olivia stepped closer to the pool. A hiss of bubbles and vapor splattered hot water in her direction. Olivia reached for it, but quickly pulled her hand back. It was so hot that even getting her fingers close was enough to scare her.
The top of the disk opened.
Olivia screamed again.
An alien stuck its yellow, bulbous, giant-eyed face out of it.
Olivia sighed. “Oh, kitty litter. You’re the ugliest Barbies I have ever seen.” She grabbed the alien out, pulling the rest of its twelve inch body with it. The alien wore a grey flightsuit, covered with patches. “Did my brother melt your faces? I’ll bet he did.”
“No, our faces are fine. Put me down.”
Olivia screamed once again.
“Ow, that hurts. Let me go.”
Olivia dropped the alien and backed away. It straightened up and brushed itself off. Olivia pushed her dark, curly hair out of her eyes so she could glare at the creature properly, with all the fury that she had learned from field hockey camp. “What kind of Barbies are you?”
Her question went ignored. “Damage report!” called a voice from inside the disk.
“We appear to have lucked out with a water landing, but the thrusters are ruined and the navigation system is offline.”
“Good. Locate the nearest repair vessel and send our coordinates.”
Olivia stood in silence, her jaw hanging open.
“No luck,” the alien sticking its head outside the miniature spacecraft said. “All I can hear is this noise.” He manipulated a small device in his hands, and from it came the sounds of radio — country music, hip hop, news, and oldies — as he tuned around on the dial.
“Where are we, then?”
“Uncharted territory,” the alien said.
“No you aren’t!” Olivia said, “This is my house and it is sharted! My baby sister sharts all the time, and mom yells, ‘that’s gross!’ What’s a shart, anyhow?”
The alien peered at her and blinked its overly large black eyes. “Is the translator malfunctioning?”
“No, it’s fine,” said a voice from inside. “It’s a colloquialism, meaning… well, I’ll just send you the data.”
The alien looked at a small device and shuddered. “Ok, the parental unit is correct. That is gross.” It looked at the girl. “We are in need of help. Our shuttle is damaged and we are a long, long way from home. You, being a larval human, are in less of a position to assist, true, but you are also less likely to cause us trouble. We can work around your age deficiency. Would you be willing to assist?”
“I don’t know. I have school.” Olivia stepped over to the pool. The pool’s water was still sizzling and steaming.
“We can help you with school.”
“And if I help you, then I won’t have time for the lemonade stand I was going to make, to buy that new Barbie Corvette.”
“We can help you with that, as well.”
“Well…” Olivia said, wringing her hands. “Mom and Dad always did say I should help those in need…” She lifted the saucer up, which was now cool to the touch, and put it on the ground.
The alien from inside said, “Not acceptable. We cannot risk detection. Is there a place where you can hide our shuttle?”
“Ummm, under my bed,” Olivia said. “Nobody ever looks there.” She dusted the sand off her clothes and carried the disk up to her room.
Outside the view screen, only a hazy darkness was visible. Zarto was laying down in her bunk. Varto turned from her console and said, “This will do for now, but we cannot stay. A brief scan of the planet shows the presence of resources we need. However, we have nothing to trade other than our technological expertise. I’m afraid we’re going to have to sell these primitives some of our knowledge.”
“Never,” said Zarto, leaning up from her bunk. “They’re far too stupid to use it safely. But… the child, we can work through. She can help us get what we need.”
Zarto stood up and climbed toward the hatch. Beyond the hatch, she scrambled past dust bunnies, broken toys, and long lost socks, and stuck her head through a gap in the bed ruffle. On the floor, next to the bed, was a plate of baked carbohydrates and a lactose-based beverage. Zarto broke a piece of the chocolate chip cookie and stuffed it in her mouth. Despite their regressive nature, they did cook a decent dessert.
“Greetings, Larva,” she called out.
The child was sitting at her desk, drawing. She turned around. “That’s not my name. Larva is a pretty name, though. Maybe that’s what I’ll name my next Barbie.”
“Then, what is your name? Larva is a designation, not a name.”
“It’s Olivia. What’s yours?”
“Zarto. And my crewmates are Garto and Zarto.”
“Oh?” giggled Olivia. “Is there a Farto on your ship, too?”
Zarto’s expression turned dark, “Speak not of him. On our last expedition, he gassed two hundred and seventy eight of us to death.”
Olivia winced. “Did he fart them all to death?”
“No, he accidentally vented the engines into the living quarters. What an idiot.”
“How sad.” Olivia reached for her favorite stuffed panda. “So, what do you need me to do? Are you going to live with me forever? What if my parents find out? Or my brother? Or my baby sister?”
“We will evade them, and keep silent, as we have always done.” The alien gestured to the tablet that was sitting on her desk. “First, we need information.”
Olivia handed the device to the aliens. It was in kids’ mode, locked down, but with a bit of hacking, the aliens removed the restrictions. From there, they installed privacy software and got to searching.
Rhodium, uranium, lithium and neptunium, Earth had it all. But it wasn’t going to be easy to get. Earth still ran on primitive systems of capitalism, and that meant they needed money. Varto looked to the others. “What should we do?”
“We need to get creative.” Zarto took over the tablet and began to browse.
Olivia looked over Zarto’s shoulder. “What are you looking for?”
“Oh, lots of rare earth metals, fuel sources for a nanonuclear drive, and information about your planet’s aircraft detection systems.”
“My mom has some gold and silver in her jewelry box. Those are rare metals, right?”
“Not exactly the kind we’re looking for,” Zarto said. “But they can provide us with the funds we need to purchase what we need.”
Varto slapped Zarto. “Stop that. Do not encourage the Larva…”
“My name’s Olivia.”
“… Yes, do not encourage the Olivia to steal from her parents. We Eltufians are better than that. Besides, I have been studying the Earth’s economy and believe I have a way to raise more than enough funds.”
Zarto sighed. “Very well. But if this is going to take a while, I will need to set up my lab equipment to start processing the available fungi on this planet into edible rations.”
“You don’t have room on the shuttle?” Garto griped. “We can not risk detection.”
“No, I don’t have room on the shuttle. And we only have a week’s worth of rations left, and while the carbohydrates and lactose the child gave us were delicious, they will not sustain us. At the pace things travel on this planet, we may be waiting for well longer than that for our supplies to arrive.”
Olivia looked at the Barbie Dream Mansion in the corner, a monstrosity that was almost as tall as she was, a McMansion of plastic and pink. The place had plenty of room between the bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, living room and den. It even had an elevator on the outside, that worked really well when Olivia used her hands to move it.
“This… this will be awesome!” Olivia said. She pulled the house away from the corner so the aliens could access both sides of it. “And I even have… Oh my god! This is going to be so great…” She dug through the bin next to the doll house and pulled out two fistfuls of clothes, hats, purses, and shoes. She dumped them on the ground and began organizing them by function.
The three aliens walked into the doll house and took a look around. “Spacious, elegant, and tastefully decorated,” Garto said. He stretched out on the plastic pink couch, pulled out a device that looked like a tiny phone, and took a few selfies. “Wait until the family back on the mothership sees this.”
Zarto slapped Garto. “We can’t reach our family back on the mothership. That’s why we’re stuck on this planet.” Zarto scowled. “Messing around with foreign tech while on a mission, and not just breaking the shuttle, but opening a freaking wormhole to Kolata knows where!” She slapped him again. “Our people are depending on us to find them a home, or did you forget?” She slapped him again. “And, it’s also your fault that I’m not going to get back in time for dinner. Spaghetti and garfballs is on the menu tonight! You JERK!”
Varto stepped in and pushed the two apart. “Never mind that… look at this.” She gestured to the giant pile of clothes that Olivia was sorting. “This is amazing.” She grabbed a glittery blue evening dress, a black silk hat, and a pair of high heels. Within seconds, her flightsuit was shedded and she was dressed in Barbie finery. “People of Elthuria, I thank you for all of your love and support,” she said. “I couldn’t have won this award without you!” Varto waved around a cup from the Barbie kitchen and blew kisses at an imaginary audience.
Zarto muttered, “You fool. These clothes are sub-standard quality.” Zarto picked up the silvery jumpsuit of the Barbie Astronaut outfit. She shimmed into it frowned. “This is supposed to be for space travel! Space travel, my defecator!” She tugged on the fabric, “This would never hold up to space radiation.” She kicked the plastic bubble helmet, “And this is what they call a life support system? Are these people mad?” Zarto stripped out of the suit and reached for a lab coat and a sensible skirt-suit, the Barbie Doctor ensemble.
Garto sighed. “Is this all we’re here for? A fashion show? Come on, we need to get to work.” Garto grabbed the first thing he could find, a frilly pink nightgown, and slipped it on. He opened a cargo compartment on the no-longer-flying saucer and pulled out his toolbox. He grabbed a length of cable from another compartment. Zarto took out a parabolic antenna and mounted it to the house. Varto ran wiring from it to panels she had installed in the living room. Within fifteen minutes, the mansion was a tangle of wires and components. Varto flipped a switch, and the screen lit up with an internet search box.
“You want me to ask my dad to help?” Olivia said. “He set up our TV and speakers and stuff. He knows all about this sort of thing.
Garto shook his head sharply. “Absolutely not. We cannot risk…”
“Yeah, yeah,” Olivia said, “But my dad would never…”
“All it took for our last home to be destroyed,” Garto sighed, “Was a single person breathing a mention of our presence to another person. When we make ourselves known, it will be on our terms.”
Olivia frowned and cast a gaze down at her feet. “I’m just trying to help.”
“And you will, Larva,” Garto said. “Once we get the data we need.”
Olivia shrugged, and turned to the pile of clothes she had set out. There were so many. It’d be kind to the aliens to at least help them organize their new wardrobes. For Varto, she set a dozen evening gowns in a rainbow of colors next to each other. Alongside that, she lined up the hats and shoes she thought would go best with each. Below that, she lined up a second row of clothes for Zarto, an array of the best of her Barbie Career outfits—Teacher Barbie, Florist Barbie, Lifeguard Barbie, and Hazmat Cleanup Barbie. And for Garto, who seemed to prefer practicality, she gave him her best sets of loungewear—yoga pants, Crocs, and velour track suits.
Varto looked up from the screen and beamed. “Yes. This planet has what we need. Larva, prepare to create a list.”
Olivia nodded and grabbed a notebook and pencil out of her backpack.
“Very good. Please obtain: One empty milk jug. One empty spool. Five paper clips.”
Olivia scrawled furiously in her notebook.
“A piece of string at least seven meters long, two empty tin cans, and twenty kilograms of heroin.”