A short piece of fiction, but don’t take it too seriously- I certainly don’t. It’s meant to be funny. I had a great time writing it, and I would love to hear what you think in the comment box below. Critiques are always welcome.
We’re a strange sight, to be sure- the biggest specimens humanity has to offer all lined up in newly fashioned uniforms, trying to hold ranks while we wait for the aliens. Mr. Universe is to my right. He was Mr. Runner-up, in my head. No sane judge would’ve placed him ahead of me. In my head, I was Mr. Universe.
To my left stands an American Samoan, a football player. I don’t mean to make any sort of social critique- this guy is the only Samoan I’ve ever been around- but he is in the running for Worst Body Odor of All Time, and gaining on the competition every second. So I’m not talking much. Just standing and letting the nerves-sweat run unchecked over my shaved head. I always get the nerves-sweat before competitions of any kind; been that way since I was a kid. But this isn’t like any football game or bodybuilding show I’ve ever done.
“Calling all monstrosities: if you’re the biggest guy you’ve ever seen, go to your local recruiting office for a once in a lifetime opportunity,” the TV ad had said. American football players, Chinese sumos, European rugby guys, one or two basketball players, a smattering of powerlifters and World’s Strongest Men, and lots of bodybuilders like me- Mr. Universes, Mr. Olympias, Mr. New Zealands, runner-ups, and runner-ups to the runner-ups. They had our numbers. If you’re like me, you can’t be the guy who sits this one out. The guy who makes excuses. So I showed up, even if deep down I knew I wasn’t the “biggest guy you’ve ever seen.” I’m close, and I’m definitely the biggest guy some people have ever seen, if that makes any sense at all. Similar overtures were made all over the world. A specially-created international task-force handled the situation. They ran our applications through the gauntlet- full psychological assessments, background checks, etc. Somehow the algorithms spit thirty names. I hereby recommend anyone involved in the selection process for court martial: they picked some serious idiots.
I craned my neck slightly to look down the line, surveying the rest of humanity’s greatest suckers. We’ve been occupied for 17 days with training and briefing. For what reason, I can’t be sure. It seems to me that the only thing we’ve learned how to properly perform is the act of standing in a straight line, but we haven’t learned it well. Our handlers say this is the most highly sensitive operation in history. Most five star generals lack the clearance for this thing. So my boss at the gym I work at and my parents were notified that I would be taking a vacation. My parents wouldn’t have noticed anyhow. My boss would notice only when he needed to reach the top shelf of the supply closet. Only I could reach it.
_ _ _ _ _
“‘Merica’s getting some visitors, my men. Yall are the welcome mat, if you catch my drift,” said General Moxon through a thick wad of tobacco. It was our first day on base.
I didn’t catch his drift, so I spoke up.
“I don’t catch your drift.” My wit knows no bounds.
“Sir,” I added with haste. I’m a sort-of soldier now, I thought. Can’t forget the ‘sir’s.’
“Well, son, don’t know your name, nor do’ah care to. You’re a big S.O.B., but your all big S.O.B.’s. You spoke first; you just got promoted to leader of this outfit. Now shut-up.”
I closed my mouth.
“We’ve made contac’ with some aliens. Not the firs’ time, not the last.”
You could hear a pin drop in the silence. Seriously, someone dropped a pen- the writing kind, though. Not sure if that counts. Paul’s mouth was open so wide I saw drool pooling at the corners. One gob in particular looked to be losing an epic duel with gravity.
General Moxon continued. “Problem is, the damn buggers’ve always been midget-small. We scared ‘em shitless.” He laughed then, a little too heartily given the situation. “Flipped their starship ‘n reverse after the how-d’you-do’s. Promised to write, n’all that.”
He was joking, I concluded after a while.
“But these latest bastards are big- bigger than we’ve seen. How big? We don’ know for sure. All we’ve got is an enhanced image or sommat like that from where they’re holdin’ in orbit. The average height of the boots-to-turf soldier in the Armed Forces is five-nine. T’ain’t gon’ cut it this time. Which is where you monsters come in. Some genius decided you gym-rat types oughta greet this pertickular batch of extraterrestrials. Pers’nally, after seein’ what it costs to feed you monsters, I’m not so sure.”
I panicked- took me a few minutes to grasp the situation. Aliens, like movie-book-TV aliens, and I was the hired muscle, designed for intimidation. Ending up as a well-cooked practice dummy for alien weaponry seemed a more likely outcome. Moxon made it clear that we were to be taken care of when we get hurt or die. I wish he had said ‘in the case of emergencies’ or at least thrown out an ‘if’ or two. But I guess one doesn’t become leader of an international team specializing in alien encounters by pandering and sugar-coating.
The bottom line- they want us big. So we spent our time on base in a well-stocked temporary gym they constructed for our use. We were fed well- overfed, in fact, even by bodybuilding standards. Think of pigs being fattened for a slaughter. This was exactly the same, just with aliens and genetic freaks in lieu of farmers and pigs.
_ _ _ _ _
The approaching beacon-truck snaps me from my reverie. The plan goes like this: first, a beacon mounted on a truck will signal the alien craft. E.T. and his buds will follow the beacon to a designated landing area, or, as Mel Gibson taught me, an ‘LZ.’ That’s where we hold ranks, in crisp military formation and crisper military uniforms. We were expressly forbidden, under penalty of certain death, to speak even a single word. The communication will be done via speakers mounted behind us. Morgan Freeman was to provide the audio. The hope was that the hopelessly soothing voice of Mr. Freeman coupled with our brawn would produce the desired effect, with the desired effect being humanity’s continued existence. The spot the General chose is empty and desolate, but provides natural cover a mile a mile away in each direction. We were told that, if things get ugly, America’s fist-and-dick is lying in the shadows just minutes away, ready to bring the hammer on the alien scum. But the policy set forth by the White House called for diplomacy in the form of athletes from five continents. I hope the Commander-in-Chief isn’t counting on my vote for reelection.
The beacon stops exactly where it’s supposed to, and minutes later the alien ship emerges from the clouds and, in a matter of seconds, descends to a hovering stop fifty yards or so in front of our ranks. I swear this thing is straight from the movies, minus the flashing lights and bright metals. The hull is muted, camouflaging the craft. I look away, and it takes a second to refocus my vision back on the ship. It’s large, shaped somewhat like an oval but also like an arrow. If you blended one of our space shuttles and the classic circular UFO, this is what you would get. No windows to speak of.
A ramp lowers, and the creatures emerge. I stiffen, look right and then left to check my place in line. There doesn’t seem to be any steps on the rather steep ramp, and I soon see why. The aliens are tri-pedal, with a third leg originating in the lower back used primarily for balance, from what I can tell. Their torsos are stretched but their heads are not. They aren’t green or bug-eyed; what I assume to be their eyes is a single slit in the upper forehead, and their skin is dark as night. As they reach ground level I see that they have body hair, faint and wispy on their stomachs and shoulders.
Our rank never wavers, though I suspect terror rather than discipline holds us in place.
“Greetings!” Freeman’s warm voice emerges from the speakers behind us. “Welcome to our planet! We open our arms in peace, fellow beings!”
There are at least ten of them, and their height is certainly impressive. The army’s intelligence was correct in that regard. But the aliens aren’t interested in the tender-firm voice. A guttural scream rises from the considerable mouth of the tallest alien. We flinch, but we don’t break. These guys are loud.
Soon the other aliens join in, raising a chorus unrivaled by anything I’d ever experienced. Some of the voices are piercingly high by our standards. This din is accompanied by raucous chest-beating and neck-swinging. They rear back on their hind leg and stomp the ground. A show of force, I realize. Ten seconds pass, then twenty. Nothing from the speakers; I suspect the higher-ups are scrambling to decide their next move. Forty-five seconds.
I’m no longer scared. The nerves-sweat is replaced by contest glisten. This is a contest, a show just like all the others. I grin and step forward, hitting my Most Muscular pose in stride- arms cocked and tense in front, neck bulging. I bring my arms up and strike a Front Double Biceps. The universe is my stage. Paul grabs my shoulder, tries to force me back into rank. I shrug him off, stepping forward even farther. As “leader of this outfit,” I’m front and center.
My uniform restricts me, so I grip my shirt and rip the buttons in one motion. The fabric hangs at my sides. My adrenaline slides like honey through my veins. The extensive networks of veins mapping my arms and shoulders bulge, bigger and prouder than ever. I hit Side Chest and hold it, only now glancing around me. Four guys to my right, Ryan McCaffrey- fourth at the Olympia and 2nd at the Arnold Invitational a year ago- is in Front Lat Spread, growling at our visitors.
Our lines ripple as the bodybuilders- probably about half of the thirty present- begin, one by one, to stir themselves into a frenzy and tear the uniforms from their chests. We flex- this is what we do for a living; this is why we were recruited, even if Moxon didn’t know it. We aren’t silent, unmoving statues- we are performers. The alien’s voices are unrelenting, but our volume rises to match them. We will not be outdone.
The testosterone is contagious: with only a few seconds hesitation, the football and basketball and rugby players are shirtless and shouting. The sumos beat their stomachs, wearing nothing but standard-issue underpants. My stage-grin widens seeing Paul stark naked, his voice already hoarse and his torso covered with beaded blood. His nails raked his stomach in the blood-rush. The universe is our stage.
We are primal, animalistic. We are warriors with the fate of the world resting on our broad, tanned shoulders. We are saviors.
It doesn’t matter that Paul messed his pants, nor is it important that at this moment the thirty of us are disobeying direct orders from one of the most senior officers in the military. The gallows could wait. I am Mr. Universe.
Suddenly, the aliens stop as if on cue. They file silently away towards their ship and their faraway planet. Even after they have left, our chests continue to heave. I wipe the frothing spittle from my mouth as General Moxon and a caravan of humvees approach.
No words are spoken; there is nothing to say. What would you say after saving the world?
I smile to myself.