Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Nine years ago today, I think, is when my fervent wish came true: my mundane life was transformed into a thing of wonder.
Wonder… Plus confusion, pain, fear, grief, longing and, right now: abject terror.
The cause of that is crouching next to where I lie in the torn ruts of the field I’d been hoeing. It plummeted from the green clouds above, paused a few metres off the ground, then proceeded to float down.
They look like ochre smoke captured in a human-shaped plastic bag. They smell like apple pie. They squeak when they move. They’re faceless, fingerless, and toeless – but have thumbs on all four limbs.
“Hello, Malcolm.”
I wet myself. Feeling the warmth spurs me to do something.
The head moves like it’s looking about.
“I see you’ve got the settlement up and running. With an emphasis on running.”
I think that was a joke?
“N-not f-funny.”
It nods.
“I can understand that. Anyway: thought you’d like the explanation I promised.”
I remember. Amidst that whirl of light and sound, I’d screamed out, demanding of God why I’d been picked to die in a freak accident when there were so many bastards deserving of death still walking about. God didn’t answer. Something else did: ‘If you survive, I’ll come and tell you.’
I’d blacked out at that point.
“It was you?”
“Talking, yes. Picking you up, no. That was done using an energy field generated by one of our machines.”
I sit up.
“Go on, then. Tell me.”
“Nothing personal, I assure you. We just prefer your kind. The population of what you call Earth has a usefully delusional approach to anything outside the realms of their accepted beliefs, and if anyone does know about us, they’re too busy trying to find ways of exploiting the situation to their advantage. Either way, when we grab a few people, no-one investigates in any effective manner.”
“You prefer us?”
“Yes. Apart from the self-deluding aspects of your minds, you have a trait that is unique: you adapt and survive no matter what. It’s quite incredible to behold. Pick up a few hundred of you from Earth, fix that degenerative inbreeding thing – and slow your aging while we’re in there – then drop the lot of you on some appalling planet and leave you to it. We come back a century or so later and eight times out of ten you’ve sorted the place out enough for us to live there. There’s sometimes a bit of conflict over us moving in, but, like I said, you’re adaptable. Most of you make the switch to serfdom nicely.”
“What about those who don’t?”
It stands up.
“Those who want to serve usually make short work of them.”
“What about the unusual ones?”
The thing shrugs.
“We transplant hundreds of you between galaxies, modifying your bodies with barely any effort during the process. Updating those modifications is simple.”
“You force the uncooperative to comply?”
“No. We bring about their deaths. No resistant strain can be allowed to survive.”
It shrugs like it’s reluctantly acknowledging a point: “Infectious stubborn is the other thing humans do too well.”
We regard each other in our own ways, a metre and a vastness between us.
It nods to me, then rises into the sky.