by Roger MacBride Allen et. al.
I was invited by USA TODAY ONLINE to start this story.  Readers
wrote the mid-section of the story, one paragraph at a time.  I
came in to write the ending.  It wasn't easy.
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Opening, by Roger MacBride Allen
      Kelly got out of his car and reluctantly headed for the 
barn. The flying saucer was in there, supposedly.  Kelly worked 
for the National Spy, the leading supermarket tab rag. The
trouble was, not even a Spy reporter got to make everything up. 
Sometimes Kelly had to go into the field, investigate a phony 
claim, and go along with the gag long enough to get a story 
written. It got depressing at times. 
      He stepped into the barn, expecting to see a collection of 
Air Force surplus junk.
      But inside was a gleaming, purple, fifteen-foot flying 
saucer of classic design hovered in the center of the barn, two 
feet off the floor. A beefy man in coveralls and a feedcap was 
hunched over an open access panel on the saucer, fiddling about. 
      "Clem - Clem Jenkins?" Kelly asked. 
      The man pulled his head out of the panel, slammed it shut, 
and offered a slightly deranged grin.
      "Yessir. You the National Spy reporter?"
      "Ah, right," Kelly said, half-dumbfounded. "Albert Kelly. 
Ah, any other reporters coming?" he asked, staring at the saucer.
      "All of 'em hung up on me, 'cept you."
      "Did - did you call anyone else? State Department? Air 
Force? NASA?"
      "Hell no. I need you for publicity. Don't need them. Not 
their business at all. Caught him myself, on my land, fair and 
      Clem shrugged. "Might be a her." He pointed into a horse 
stall. "Charge admission, ten dollars a head. Oughta do all 
      "Albert Kelly, say howdy to Shorty the Spaceman." 
      Kelly looked into the stall. There, small and forlorn, 
huddled in the corner, a rope halter tied around its neck, was a 
small, grey-brown, big-headed humanoid. 
      Clem Jenkins had committed the world's first reverse alien 

By Claudia Bergstrom
      Kelly stood speechless as he stared at the sad creature. It 
made a mewling sound and lifted one of its scaly arms. "You 
haven't hurt it, have you?" he asked.  "Naw, even tried to feed 
it. Guess it ain't partial to grits," the beefy man laughed.
      Kelly approached the alien slowly, his head full of Pulitzer 
Prize visions and fists full of money. But first he had to get it 
away from Clem, who could spoil everything with his ideas of a 
small-time attraction.
      Kelly needed a plan.

By Brenda K. Farr
      Kelly tapped his foot thoughtfully. 
      "Tell you what, Clem," he said as he thought fast. "I want 
to get some pictures, but it's too dark in here. Think we could 
take this alien outside?"
      "Sure," he crowed. "It sure ain't gonna git away from us."
      Clem opened the door and barged into the stall. He fumbled 
with the knot tying the creature to a hook set in the wall. 
Jerking hard, he hauled the alien to its feet, dragging it out of 
the stall and down the aisle to the door.
      It cried out in fear.

By Mark Taylor
      "Same noise when I took his suit off." 
      "Suit?" asked Kelly. "What suit?"
      "My grandson took it home."
      The creature was paler than the tabloid drawings Kelly had 
published. There was something pathetic, vaguely human about the 
cry it had made. Kelly wondered how a creature who was able to 
build and operate a machine as complicated as the one floating in 
the barn, could allow itself to be captured.
      "Are you asking?" came a voice.
      "Who said that?" said Kelly.
      "Said what?" asked Clem.

By Dan Hansen
      "Only you can hear me."
      Kelly looked at Clem and saw the blank stare of a dullard. 
He then looked at the alien who gave Kelly a slight nod. 
      "That's right, the voice you hear is mine. I am Nandis. 
We've been watching you for some time, Albert Kelly. As for 
allowing myself to be captured, I needed a way to contact you 
without causing a commotion. It's no accident that our
mentally challenged friend here called you. His thoughts are easy 
to manipulate. He even thinks he has a grandson."

By Mark Taylor
      "What next, then?" thought Kelly. 
      "Assist the farmer in getting me outside. My ship will 
follow us. Once we are aboard we can talk." 
      "Aboard?" said Kelly.
      "What you want a board for?" asked Clem. "Y'ain't gonna hit 
'em are you?"
      "No, I'm not. I think he looks bored."
      "My people are ready for the next phase," continued Nandis. 
"You must help prepare the way."

By Dana Pratt
      "Look, Nandis, I'm as adventuresome as the next guy, but 
I've got to have a few more details before I can lend you a hand. 
Just what is this 'next phase'?" Kelly beamed his thoughts to the 
      Nandis seemed to waggle what passed for eyebrows at Kelly. 
"You have been a part of our plan for quite some time. We have 
shrouded your memories to help protect you. Once on board my 
ship, everything will be clear to you."
      Kelly hesitated. It would be a great story ... if he lived 
to write it.

By Eduardo A. Cervino
      Kelly's brain ignited with flashes of recurrent nightmares. 
While he found Nandis' thoughts soothing, the alien's changing 
demeanor reminded him of those nighttime images. Kelly now 
watched the claw on Nandis' neck appendage efficiently severing 
Clem's rope. 
      "No longer afraid?" asked Nandis.
      "I guess not. Let's go."
      A rumble was heard in the barn.

By Ronald E. Newman Jr.
      Kelly turned around expecting resistance from Clem. But 
there was none. The dimwitted farmer stood staring blankly at the 
barn wall, obviously under the alien's control.
      Nandis lead Kelly up a ramp that extended from the craft's 
belly. "You have performed an excellent service for our people," 
Nandis said excitedly.
      As they stepped inside, a flash of memories bombarded Kelly. 
      "I remember this saucer," he said, staggering in surprise.
      "You should," Nandis quietly replied. "It is your ship."

By Rene M. Gonzalez
      "You seem confused friend, but do not worry, your memories 
will return," Nandis said in a soothing voice. "The council is 
anxious to hear your report on the human race."
      "What are you talking about?" asked Kelly.
      "You're not human," Nandis chuckled, "Don't you remember 
yet? You're a shapeshifter sent to spy on the human race."

By Cheri Lynne McDonough
      The flood of memories came back to him veiled in a mist, 
parts of a puzzle struggling to be constructed.
      "Could it be," he thought, "that this is where I belong?"
      The strong familiarity frustrated and frightened him. How 
could his life here be nothing but a ruse?
      Kelly's head was swimming when suddenly, he was surrounded 
by hundreds of creatures who resembled Nandis. The throng was 
chanting, "hands" were guiding him forward. The last sound he 
recognized was his own scream. 

By Garrett Murray
      "Please don't hurt me," Kelly cried out.
      "Be calm," Nandis replied in a soothing tone. "You will not 
be harmed. It may take some time to change back."
      "Change back to what? What do you mean?"
      "Back into yourself. Back into Taron."
      "Who is Taron?" Kelly was growing interested.
      "You are," Nandis replied. Then, pointing at Kelly's feet he 
said, "It is starting."
      Kelly looked down in awe. What was happening to him? 

By Tonya Emille Harvey
      As his whole body began to tingle, the skin around his feet 
quickly perforated and bled. Kelly watched helplessly as his 
human flesh tore, falling apart to reveal not bone, but the same 
grey-brown scales of the tiny creatures who were watching him. 
Kelly doubled over and fell to his knees as a white sheet of pain 
shot up his back.
      "Help me!" he cried, squeezing his eyes shut. He began to 
      "It is almost over, Taron," Nandis said calmly. "Kelly is 

By Ron Newman
      The transformation complete, Nandis helped Taron up off the 
cold metallic floor.
      "How are you feeling?" Nandis asked.
      "Still confused, but better," Taron replied. "We need to 
work on that process.  The memories should return before the body 
      Taron walked to a glass door covered in a fine layer of 
frost. He wiped it with his clawed hand, revealing a frozen 
Albert Kelly.
      "Return him," Taron told Nandis. "We have the information we 
came for. It is worse than we feared. The United States wants to 
colonize our planet," declared Taron. "They are coming to Mars."
      "Perhaps it will be peaceful," Nandis interjected.
      "I don't think so," Taron said. "Humans have a propensity to 
take what is not theirs." 
      "How can we stop them?"
      "I must take the form of their President, as I did with 
      "How will you manage that?"
      "We already have one of our spies posing as a female in the 
White House," Taron responded with an evil grin on his face. "The 
rest should be easy."

By Roger MacBride Allen
      Nandis shook his head.  "We already have the real President 
on ice up here."  He pointed toward a long row of cyrogenic 
containers.  "We put a shapeshifter in for him six years ago, 
while you were already working undercover.  Every President since 
Nixon has been one of ours."
      Taron looked at Nandis in astonishment.  Nixon, Ford, 
Carter, Reagan, -- right down to the present.  All of them?  
Still, it made a certain bizarre sense. After all, how often did 
Earth people ask where do they find these guys?  Now he knew.  
"Wait a second," Taron protested.  "If we've had our people in 
there running things, why haven't we been able to shut down their 
Mars program?" 
      "We came very close," said Nandis.  "We stopped it cold for 
twenty years.  But their bureaucracy is awesome.  Their program 
got on a 'do more with less' kick, and actually started to get 
results.  Their latest probe is in Mars orbit and about to start 
taking some very detailed pictures.  If we don't do something 
fast, it's going to see things we really don't want seen."
      Taron groaned.  He'd ordered his agent to set off an 
unbelievably complex scandal in the White House, one that that 
was supposed to bring the government grinding to a halt, stopping 
the Mars program along with everything else.  Except his agent 
was about to wreak havoc on the substitute President his own 
people had put into place.  
      Worse, the plan that had seemed so reasonable before now 
made no sense at all.  Human governments weren't like what they 
knew on Mars.  Scrambling the White House wouldn't do a think to 
stop the current Mars mission. 
      "What a mess," Taron said. "Absolutely unbelievable."  
      And then he saw the answer.  "Unbelievable!" he said again.  
Taron remembered the reason he had picked the reporter's job for 
himself in the first place.  "You're going to have to send me 
back as Kelly, but with my memories intact," he said.  "I'm -- 
he's -- perfectly positioned for this job."
                            # # #  
      Two weeks later, Albert Kelly stood in the longest checkout 
line in the grocery story, and watched the line move.  One by 
one, each customer took a quick, furtive peek at the cover of the 
National Spy.  Some just stared at it before looking away, but 
others were bold enough to pick it up and read the inside pages.  
One or two of them actually pulled it off the rack and paid the 
clerk for it.
      Every other newspaper and magazine in the store, in the 
city, in the country, had one angle or another of the maddeningly 
convoluted White House scandal on its cover.  But not the Spy.  
It specialized in the impossible.  When reality seemed stranger 
than anything that was merely impossible, well, then, it was 
clearly time for the Spy to try harder at making fiction stranger 
than truth.  That was what everyone expected.  And if, for once, 
the Spy published the plain unvarnished truth, it wouldn't 
matter.  If it was in the Spy, no one would take it seriously.  
      "It's unbelievable what they'll print these days, isn't it?" 
asked the nice little old lady just in front of him in line.  She 
pointed at the cover of the Spy and shook her head sadly.
      Albert looked at the cover himself, proud of his handiwork.  
He had had a devil of a time touching up the latest authentic 
NASA Mars photos so they'd look fake enough to belong in the Spy.  
The sunbathers had come out badly enough, but the swimming pool 
still looked distressingly real.  Well, he could do a better job 
of making it look worse in the follow-up story.  SPACE PROBE 
FINDS NUDIST CAMP ON MARS, the main headline read.     
      "Unbelievable," he agreed.  "At least, I sure as hell hope 

Most recent revision: February 1, 1998

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