The Very Long Distance Wrong Number

Who’d have thought you could make starship fuel out of espresso, frozen yogurt, and Tabasco sauce?

Bruce Coville's Book of Aliens 2
The Very Long Distance Wrong Number
Bruce Coville’s Book of Aliens II
Scholastic • 1996

“This is exactly the kind of thing I wanted to have happen to me when I was a kid.”

Bruce Coville

Read an Excerpt….

When other twelve-year-olds answer pay phones in shopping malls, they get radio station deejays, or other kids, or sometimes carpet-cleaning sales people.  Not me.  I get slithery green aliens from Canopus.

The specific pay phone in question was next to Mighty Joe’s Ice Cream, Frozen Yogurt & Espresso in the food court at Waterhouse Square.  Having just bought a root beer from my older brother’s girlfriend, I was checking its coin return for loose change when it rang.

“Grand Central Station, may I help you?”  For some reason, this line never fools anyone.  Maybe I’ll have better luck after my voice changes–I’m no boy soprano, but nobody’s going to mistake me for Darth Vader.  Of course, Waterhouse Square is also in Oregon, a few thousand miles west of the real Grand Central Station in New York, which doesn’t help.

But for once, the line worked.  “Grand Central Station, this is Fleet Supply Drone Two Six Five,” said a high, thin voice.  “What are your landing coordinates, please?”

Some eight-year-old who’s read too much Calvin & Hobbes, I thought.  Well, two could play that game.  “Fleet Supply Drone Two Six Five, this is Grand Central Station.  Automatic guidance systems are off-line; you’ll have to set down manually.”

“Affirmative, Grand Central Station; we have locked onto your signal and are descending from orbit now.”

This was one smooth eight-year-old.  “Very good, Two Six Five.  You are cleared for landing pad seven.  Set your coordinates for–” I glanced out at the parking lot through the glass-walled atrium just across the food court “–seventy-five meters due west from my location.”

“Acknowledged, Grand Central Station.  We estimate touchdown in one point five minutes.  Stand by to initiate anti-bacterial screening.”

Somebody had been watching a lot of Star Trek reruns.  “Negative, Two Six Five,” I said, a little startled.  “Anti-bacterial systems are also off-line.  We’ll have to take you as you are.”

“Acknowledged,” said the voice, sounding concerned.  “You do have a star-drive maintenance facility available, I hope?”

I didn’t answer the question right away.  I was too busy watching the spaceship land in the parking lot.