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It’s been said before. Don’t mess with Texas. That’s good advice for any alien invader! —RWB

Good Neighbor Policy

by Dantzel Cherry

Targ landed on the planet known as Earth, four battleships and sixteen soldiers at the ready. His three eyes rotated this way and that, surveying the land he'd been assigned to conquer with some resignation. The sun burned down with a vengeance, and even though the air was clear and breathable, it felt thick and sticky. The worst part was the dense, green shrubbery, which was so unlike the typical yellow and red of his beloved Zsarg. How could he stand out as Supreme Leader of Earth if he blended into the local flora?

Another problem was figuring out where the main base for this planet was. Yesterday he had tried conquering the southern tip of Earth where everything was a pleasant stark white, but the local life forms had not responded respectfully to his requests, and he’d been obliged to blast a few to show them he was a serious leader who demanded respect.

The poof of oily feathers had been most satisfactory.

The following outraged swarm of powerful wings smacking him and his men about had not.

Two of the local life forms in this overly green country peeked out from their front door and slowly approached him and his army. They towered over him and his men, but they seemed more capable of the “shock and awe” that Targ had been expecting.

“Aw, look at him, Helen,” one of the natives said, crouching down until he was eye-level with Targ. A most satisfactory sign of respect.

“I know, Zane, I love it. I just love it,” the female behind him said. She also sank onto both knees and stared at him with intense curiosity, almost uncomfortably so.

Targ was to be feared, not adored! Part of the strength of this invasion, rush job though it was, was the element of surprise, and Targ had watched Earth long enough to know it had neither received nor transmitted any signals in the standard intergalactic communication frequencies.

There were planets to conquer and quotas to fill, but Targ couldn’t stop himself from asking, “Have you seen my kind before?”

The male shrugged. “Nah, but we’re Texans. We don’t startle easily.”

This was disappointing, but perhaps surprise was not necessary with creatures so docile. Targ puffed all of his body’s air cavities until his body mass increased by thirty percent. His lower two arms planted on his torso, while his upper arms expanded menacingly. “Take me to your base,” he said. His deep voice had inspired fear and devotion on two other planets so far, but he hoped he was pronouncing everything correctly. His internal translator didn’t account for all local dialects.

The man named Zane blinked twice (in fear, perhaps?) and asked, “You want bass?”

Targ paused. “Indeed.”

Zane nodded his head slowly. “I would be honored to take you to the local bass, mister—what’s your name?”

“Targ the Mighty, commander of the Zsargeens.”

““Well Targ the Mighty, welcome to the town of Uncertain in the beau-tiful state of Texas, Targ. You couldn’t have come at a better time to catch bass. I’ll just go round up my gear.”

He paused, and added, “In the meantime, why don’t you try the pie my wife Helen here just pulled out of the oven?”

“This pleases me, yes,” Targ said, still in his deepest voice, but Zane had already turned away, presumably to deliver the bass—and further, the keys of the planet to him.

Helen stood to her full height and winked at Targ and his men.

“Come along, hun. I’ll show you the peach pie, and you and your men can see if it’s to your liking.” She pointed at the building she and Zane had come out of when Targ had first arrived.

Targ’s men looked at him. Targ glanced at Helen, and compared her soft body to that of the retreating Zane. The male was obviously not only the stronger of the two, but most definitely Helen’s superior. Even the frequency of her smile showed that she gave way to the nearest alpha, which Targ certainly was.

Targ caught his skin deflating in the midst of all that thinking, and puffed up to full size. “We will wait here for pie.”

“Oh, hun, I wouldn’t do that if I were you. It’s much nicer on the porch.”

Targ did not dignify this with a response. He turned to his men instead, pointing as he gave orders in a low voice.

“You two—follow the female. Marg—take Karg and Larg and trail the male, but stay covert. Observe only, unless he does something suspicious. Sarg, Xarg, and Zarg—stay with me here. The rest of you—establish a perimeter. Keep a wary eye out for hostiles.”

His men spread out, and Helen shrugged and went inside the house, with two of Targ’s men in tow.

Targ paced as he waited, treading over the hard dirt road and over the plants—which were a disappointing green, but soft and accommodating. Here and there, though, were little brown mounds of earth rising from the greenery. Poor housekeeping or land mines? Targ leveled his blaster at one of the lumps, knowing his blast would neutralize any bomb the humans might have placed.

Zap. The dirt scattered, but no bits of metal sprayed up. A few red creatures scurried out of a hole no wider than his biggest toe. They were so small that Targ had to lean all the way down to see any of their limbs. They were so tiny, so insignificant, even as they panicked over their destroyed home. Targ brushed creatures and dirt alike out of his path. It was good to be a conqueror.

Just then his foot began to burn. It burned like it was on fire, though Targ could see very well that there was no fire, only one of the tiny red creatures attacking his foot.

Another two climbed up the same limb, stinging indiscriminately. Targ would have appreciated their bravery if it didn’t hurt so blasted bad.

He slapped all three off with ease, but more scrambled up. He slapped them away too, stepping back quickly, and followed the trail to the destroyed earth mound. He zapped five more blasts into the small hole.

For a single moment, the charred earth smoked and Targ’s skin deflated in relief.

Then the ground around where the hole used to be bubbled—or so it seemed—and hundreds, if not thousands, of angry red creatures poured upward, heading straight for him and his men.


“We’re under attack!” Targ shouted to his men, even as he backed into them. “Fire at will!” His soldiers turned and opened fire on the brown mound and the area surrounding it, and the men establishing the perimeter and following Helen rushed onto the scene and joined in. The quiet zap zap-zap zap decimated the puny mounds. Not all the shots were entirely accurate, though—one of his men tripped on a small rock and skimmed Targ’s right leg with his blast. Targ shrieked.

“No! Get away from the fire ants!” Helen came running toward them, and then changed her mind after seeing how many blasters were aimed in her general direction. She skirted around the shooting and came as near Targ as she dared. “Run to the porch, boys! Are you alright, hun?”

Targ glared at her. “My men will carry me.”

Right on cue, three of his men scooped him up and rushed him away from the attacking ants to the steps of the front porch. There Targ inspected his leg—where the ants had stung, his skin had sunk, leaving small, painful spots of white in their wake. The errant blaster shot was technically worse than the ant stings, but Targ’s outer layer of skin had already sealed along the edges of the wound, protecting the rest of the leg from the air.

The tiny holes in the stings, on the other hand, which Targ’s skin had never encountered, refused to seal up. As such, Targ couldn’t properly puff up his right leg, a scrawny appearance that one only saw on the extremely unfortunate youths, or the drug-addled. Each of his men had suffered similar injuries; most of their legs were even more puckered than Targ’s.

Helen crouched down, inspecting his leg and making frequent “ooo” and “ouch” noises.

“Is this some kind of trap?” Targ demanded.

The woman looked up at him, her right eyebrow arched. “Certainly not. I’ve had my share of fire ant stings—enough that I learned to stay away from them. But they aren’t dangerous, unless you’re allergic to their venom. But that’s rare.” She paused. “I guess you’re not from around here, though.”

Targ decided she was sincere. He puffed up his skin, but the air hissed out of the sting holes. He sighed. “Sarg, cut around each of my sting wounds so the healing process can begin.” Sarg and the others looked around for a cutting tool, but there were none to be had.

“I have some paring knives ya’ll could use, if you like,” Helen offered.

With reluctance Targ accepted her offer, and in short order he and his men had each carved the outer skin away from the mildly venomous stings and were ready to try the pie the humans had spoken of.

Targ stared at his plate. He didn’t trust the little fragrant triangle of “peaches” that were topped with a dry light brown “crust.” He ordered the soldier that had shot his leg to taste first.

The unfortunate taste tester quivered with trepidation at his plate, took one tentative bite from the utensil Helen had called a “fork,” then dropped the fork and scooped the pie into his mouth as quickly as he could with all four hands. After a moment, Targ and the rest of his men followed suit.

It was the best thing Targ had ever tasted. If Targ didn’t consider poetry to be an ignominious use of one’s time, he might have written a ballad to this pie. They shoveled it in with abandon, pausing only to demand more. Helen wisely didn’t bring up the ants again, asking only, “More pie?”

As his men filled near to bursting, they slumped against each other in a semi-comatose reverie, chewing their cud for their second stomach to enjoy later. Just as Targ finished his fourth plate, Zane appeared in front of the crowded porch, gripping a bucket, a rectangular box with a handle, and five long poles tucked under his arm.

With difficulty, he held up a bucket that wafted an extremely delicious scent, just like the jujubs on his own planet—thick and meaty, yet with delicate fatty pustules hanging underneath the jujubs’ wattles.

“Okay boys, we’re fixin’ to jig and pig! In this here bucket I’ve got the pig, and over here I’ve got the jigs for us to try out tonight: the Naughty Bug, the Chunk, and the Fat Grub Tail,” Zane said, shaking the rectangular box. “Let’s pair those with the Pumpkin Chart, the Green Crawdad, and my standard Bl—what in the hell happened here?” he interrupted himself, his tiny human eyes gaping at the little bits of skin Targ and his men had cut off and pushed to the bottom porch step.

Helen started to explain, but Targ hurriedly cut her off. “We’re fine—we’re all fine, aren’t we men? We’re ready to take your bass.” He jumped up and brandished his blaster to make his point, but the pose was ruined a bit by the sound of air hissing out from the not-yet-sealed cuts on his legs.

Zane shared a look with Helen, but Targ couldn’t understand what it meant.

After a moment, Zane said, “Alright, we’ll talk about that later. Let’s talk bass—Targ, how many bass were you hoping to catch tonight?”

“As many as I can, but it would be best if I took the biggest one first,” Targ replied.

Zane laughed. “I wish it worked that way!”

Was he challenging Targ? It was best that Targ made his intentions clear. He went on, “And then probably the ones that think they can fight back. If I round these up first, the others will see there is no use in resisting my might.”

Zane cocked his head to the side. “I’ve heard of that ‘think like a fish’ stuff before, but you’re really taking it to the next level.”

Targ was pleased to see that his intimidation technique worked.

Confident in his new alpha role, he asked, “How does ‘jigging’ and ‘pigging’ help us capture your bass?”

“This is the only way to catch a bass this time of year,” Zane said, jiggling the bucket and releasing more mouth-watering scent. “Come on, let’s get going.”

It was a pity to take over the world when there was still pie to be eaten, but Targ needed to be strong in front of his new subjects.

With one last longing glance at the remaining slice of pie in the dish, Targ ordered his men into formation. With Targ, Zane, and Helen in the front, they trooped off at a quick pace down a dirt path that paralleled a small stream of water. They walked faster than Targ would have liked, but it was out of necessity to keep up with Zane’s long strides.

The humans didn’t glance down at Targ much, for which Targ was grateful. He didn’t want them to see him leaping over or sidestepping past any creature that resembled an ant—which he encountered nearly every third step. It felt like dancing. Targ’s parents would have been ashamed. Behind him, his men performed similar dances of shame. It couldn’t be helped, though. He almost felt sorry for the humans he was about to conquer—what a monstrous planet to live on.

“You picked one of the best places in the country to catch bass, Mister Targ,” Zane said after another period of silence. “There’s a bunch of ‘em hiding out in the Caddo Lake maze. They like the cypress roots and the Spanish moss, but sometimes the lily pads get thick near the docks and then it’s hard to not catch one every time you cast.”

Cast what? Targ thought, nonplussed. Cast a warning? This translator was a second-rate piece of junk.

The web of trees broke through, and Targ found that the stream had emptied into a lake. They had made it out of the woods, and among the water. They would be capturing their first bass any moment.

“Alright boys, here’s the edge of the water. Stay close, and let me show you how to flip and pitch this here pig accurately,” Zane said, pulling a bit of the smelly stuff out of the bucket and holding it close to his fishing pole. Why had he brought all that? “Accuracy is important when you flip and—”

Targ tuned him out, and turned to look around the lake, walking along the shore to admire his soon-to-be-conquered planet. Nothing moved, except for a tall, thin white bird off in the distance, dipping its hard yellow beak into the brownish water. If one ignored the plethora of green, the lake here was beautiful.

His reverie was broken by a splash of water and something chomping down on his leg. Another fire ant? But this was more painful, and—

Targ thudded on his back and found himself dragged forward through gritty sand into the water. What was happening? What were all those teeth doing clamped on his leg? He struggled to pull his blaster out.

“Alligator!” Zane shouted as Targ slipped halfway into the water. “Hold on, Targ, I’m coming!”

Alligator, huh? Targ zapped the alligator right between its tiny, beady eyes.

This killed the sneaking bastard.

Unfortunately, this sneaking bastard had a really excellent death grip, and Targ found himself sinking down with the dead creature. His head slipped under the water, and he knew he was done for.

The great black universe of death welcomed him.

A stab of pain brought him to consciousness. His eyes popped open, one at a time, until all three confirmed that he was, in fact, on the shore, with Marg, his second in command, cutting into his leg.

“See?” Helen was saying to Marg. “He’s still alive. Put the knife away.”

“Alligator?” Targ asked.

“Deader than dead, Mister Targ. You’re a wicked shot,” Zane’s voice said. A moment later Targ found Zane off to the side, tugging the alligator carcass on shore, though Targ couldn’t figure out why he would do such a thing.

Another stab of pain, and Targ yelped.

“Sorry, sir,” Marg said, bowing and stepping away. In one of his hands was a paring knife. “I took the liberty of helping your leg heal. If you’re in too much pain, I could perform the debraining rites and take over as commander.” He held the knife noncommittally, but his voice sounded too eager for Targ’s liking.

Targ sprang to his feet, ignoring the pain in his leg, and checked all four of his hands for additional damage. He was pleased to see there was none. The blaster had been submerged, though. He reprimanded himself for not requisitioning the waterproof model.

“That’s very thoughtful, Marg, but I think I can still fulfill my duties as commander. I’ll inform you if the situation changes.”

“You have only but to ask, sir.”

Targ made a mental note to request a new second in command when he got home. “Zane the Human, I am ready to capture the first bass.”

“I’d be happy to help. Come on over here and I’ll show you the proper jig and pig techniques. Your men are already practicing their casts.”

For the first time Targ noticed the rest of his company standing by the shore. They stood in groups of three and were taking turns holding the pole, which had a thin, clear string attached to it with brightly colored objects and the jujub-smelling meat hooked on the end of the string. They were swinging the meat into the water, and then drawing it back out with a little retracting device. The men looked at Targ, waiting for direction.

“Are these weapons for—” began Targ timidly, but he was interrupted by a shout from one of his soldiers, who seemed to be having trouble with his pole.

Zane sprang forward and hovered over the soldier, hands held out as though they were going to snatch the pole away at any moment. “You’ve got one! Reel him in nice and slow. Keep a grip on your pole! There, now.”

Targ leaned in, excited despite his utter bewilderment. Were they opening the first base? Why did they keep their base under the water? Although it stood to reason that the alligators would make excellent, if primitive, security guards.

A flash of silver appeared out of the water, drawn up by the string. It wriggled and struggled and would have pulled the soldier into the water, but Zane grabbed the pole at the last second and continued pulling the silvery object to shore.

“There!” Zane said, holding it up. “Your first bass, and at least seven pounds. Looks like the Pumpkin Chart lure was a hit tonight.”

Confused, Targ came closer.

It was a creature of some sort, with stupid, unblinking eyes, silver and green scales, and a mouth that gaped around an orange object. It struggled to get free, and a few droplets of water flicked onto Targ’s face.

“What’s this?” Targ asked.

“Your first bass,” Zane repeated, smiling. “Is this your first time seeing a fish? You look as squeamish as Helen used to get when I gutted them, back before we got married. Here, hold it and I’ll take a picture.”

Targ was too confused to protest as Zane passed the string over to him, and hustled the soldier who had caught it next to him. Targ held the string high over his head with his top two arms and tried not to fall over—the fish was almost as tall as he was. Helen pulled a little black device out of her clothing and Zane crouched down next to them, smiling.

“Ready,” Helen said, and a bright flash from the device blinded Targ momentarily. “Got it!”

“Great start, guys,” Zane said, jumping up and unhooking the fish. “I’ll string this up over here so we can get this pole back in action.”

He strode away.

“But isn’t the base under the . . .” Targ started to call out after him.

An uncomfortable dawning realization came upon Targ as he watched Zane cast his bait into the water, near one of the strange white trees, and gently reel it back in. The events of the day rearranged themselves in his mind, and though he was too pockmarked to puff out his skin, he felt his anger bubble up.

“Zane the Human, I am not here to catch your bass fish,” he shouted at Zane.

“If you’re nervous about falling in the water again, Targ, I can catch them for you.”

“Targ the Mighty is nervous about nothing! I am coming to understand that you have been disingenuous with me since the moment I landed on your accursed planet.”

“Now that’s not—” began Zane, but Targ boomed over him.

“I asked to be taken to your base, and you led me to this miserable swamp, only to be attacked by your local allies, and left to drown in the muckiest water known to the galaxy at large.”

“I concede about the condition of the water around here,” said Zane, spreading his free hand wide and pumping it against the empty air near the front of his torso. “But the rest are outright untruths. You came here and asked for my bass, which I am happily providing the best chance of acquiring one of your own, and using my best equipment, too. I saved your life. You ate our pie—”

If Targ didn’t know better, he’d think that Zane was the most upset about the pie. “Take me to your base,” Targ said.

“I already did,” Zane said, holding up his pole. “Remember?”

“Take me to your base,” Targ said again. “With all the weapons, and your best military leaders.”

“Mister Targ, it’s not my fault you can’t say ‘base’ properly. You held a blaster in your hand like any common criminal—and I’ll have you know that this state is a ‘Castle Doctrine’ state, and I had the courtesy to not shoot your little green guts out while you were trampling my wife’s basil plants—and because you asked for bass, I gave you bass.”

Targ pulled his blaster out, though he wasn’t entirely certain it still worked after being doused in the lake. He leveled it at Zane. Helen gave a small but satisfactory gasp.

“Take me to your base,” Targ said, giving particular emphasis to “base,” now properly pronounced.

“Or what?”

“Or I’ll shoot you and your wife here.”

As Targ spoke, he gestured at Helen, his third eye only just taking notice of her holding a blaster—

Targ jumped back and gave Helen his full attention. She was standing next to him and holding a blaster of her own—or whatever the primitive equivalent here was—and she was pointing it directly at him. As primitive as their weapons may be, Targ was positive they could kill as brutally as a blaster or basic curlicue sword.

“Or what?” Helen repeated her husband’s question in a low voice, which nearly rumbled with the implied threat.

“Or I’ll shoot you both.” Targ had to remind himself that he was the quickest shot in his class, back in command school. Surely he could shoot her first.

Helen sighed, but didn’t drop the arm holding the weapon. “Targ, you need to understand three things. One: There is no central base for the planet. There are certainly a few key bases for the United States, but I’m the last person to know where they are.

“Two: I am an extremely decent shot with a handgun.

“Most importantly, three: If you harm me, Zane, or the rest of humanity in any way, I can guarantee that you will never again have a taste of my pie.”

All around Targ, his men muttered at this threat. The loss of Helen’s pie would be a great blow, but what of Planet Earth? Targ had been planning to add its conquest to his resume, and he hated not meeting quota. On the third hand . . . was that another fire ant biting him?

Targ swatted the fire ant away with a free arm and lowered the blaster with the other. “I have decided that this planet does not please me. In exchange for more pie, you are welcome to keep your bases and your bass and your fire ants and your alligators.”

Helen and Zane leaned in close and discussed this quietly, so quietly that Targ could not hear, which he found rather rude. Nevertheless, he allowed it. Considering the circumstances and all.

“We agree to those terms,” Helen informed him. “Under the condition that you join us for dinner before you go—as a sign of our good will.”

“Helen really is the best cook in the whole county,” Zane added. “Fried fish is her specialty.”

Targ pretended to consider before answering. “This is acceptable.”

The sun had set and Earth’s moon was bright in the sky when Targ and his soldiers staggered back to their battleships, filled to the brim with fish and pie. Zane wrapped an arm around Helen’s waist as they stood on the porch steps and waved goodbye.

When the battleships were indistinguishable from the twinkling stars, Zane let out a sigh. “Helen’s peach pie, bringer of intergalactic peace.”

Helen laughed, shaky but exultant. “At least this second bunch was cute. What did they call themselves? Sardines?”

“Zsargeens,” Zane corrected. “That other bunch last month, they were the Zsardines.”

“That’s right,” Helen agreed, leaning into Zane. It was her turn to sigh. “I can’t believe that pie worked twice!”

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