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dropped down from some other dimension (just to be with you)

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The aliens have a habit of showing up wherever they decide something is interesting. They can't be persuaded to make formal contact with any government on Earth, but they showed up for the first time at an Olympic-qualifying round of luge and have showed up at unpredictable intervals since, never the same ones (and sometimes not even from the same planet unless they have wildly divergent evolution, clearly there's some kind of Federation out there and they just refuse to explain it to Earth), always just interested in saying hello to whoever is around. Sometimes someone will disappear after they've been around, and it has governments and press alike in a furor.

Athelstan is nervous to say the least when he sees the flashing lights in his yard, because there's really nothing interesting on his street in the middle of the night.

Surely they'll notice that, though. They'll find somewhere else to visit. There must be a nightclub or a sporting event or some skydivers somewhere.

There's a knock on Athelstan's door.

For a moment, he considers not answering it, calling the hotline dedicated to informing the government there are aliens around, but for all he knows, they know he's here and that will just get him in trouble. He says a quick prayer and opens his door.

The people at the door look a lot more human than most of the aliens he's seen on the internet, but they're very obviously not human, from the glowing eyes to the ridges on their skin to the smiles full of too many teeth. “To what do I owe the honor?” he asks, because they don't seem inclined to start the conversation and from what he's heard most of them speak Earth languages quite well.

“We like the look of you. And we have a question.”

Athelstan opens his mouth and shuts it again and tries to think of what to say to that. “You aren't going to abduct me, are you?”

Both of them laugh. “Why would we do that?” the one on the left asks. “If you'd like to be absconded with, though, there's a lovely restaurant a few light years away.”

“Have you been watching me?”

“Yes,” says the one on the right. “We like finding interesting people. You're interesting.”

“I'm really not.”

The one on the right hefts what looks like a bucket. “We brought you a beverage. It seems to be polite to do so for hosts here. I'm told it's compatible with your biology.”

Athelstan looks at it, alarmed. “Are you certain of that?”

“We wouldn't feed it to you if we weren't,” says the one on the left, still grinning. “Aren't you going to let us in?”

*

Their names are Ragnar and Lagertha, a husband and wife, and the drink they serve him is violently purple and the most delicious thing he's ever tasted in his life.

“It's made out of crushed insects,” Ragnar says cheerfully when Athelstan makes a pornographic noise, and not even that can keep him from taking another drink. “See? We're not trying to poison you.”

Lagertha is walking around his house squinting at everything, poking some of it. She likes his books, but mostly to riffle through the pages, and she seems fascinated by the grandfather clock the landlady left behind.

“You still haven't explained why you decided I'm interesting,” Athelstan says when he's offered them tea in turn and they've taken him up on it. Both of them look very dubious about it, if he's reading their expressions right.

“You're one of the newest aliens,” says Ragnar. “Of course you're interesting.”

Athelstan sighs and asks about the other aliens instead, if he can't hear why he's caught their interest. He's treated to a two-hour lecture on the various kinds of aliens who have been visiting and might yet visit, as well as a basic rundown of how their cooperative of planets works that would make political analysts and xenoanthropologists (a newly sprung up and very hopeful field) weep with envy.

“So,” says Lagertha when there's a pause in the conversation and Athelstan is trying to figure out how to ask again why they ended up on his doorstep. “Are you coming with us?”

Athelstan blinks at them. “Coming with you where?”

“To dinner, of course. I told you, that restaurant is without compare,” says Ragnar. “We can have you back whenever you care to be back. And honestly, I'd like to leave soon, before someone boring shows up in response to our ship landing and wants to ask us questions.”

He should say no. He should say a hundred things, and none of them are what escapes his mouth. “If it's as good as that drink, I think I'd like to.”

Both of them beam at him, and seconds later he's being swept to his feet and toward the door.

“Hold on,” he says, and they stop. “Let me turn off some lights and leave a note saying I haven't been abducted. You're not giving our government a very good impression of you.”

“Why should we care about that?” Lagertha asks, but they wait indulgently in his doorway while he scrambles around his house getting a coat and an overnight bag and writing a note that will definitely not be believed about leaving of his own free will.

“Now, then,” says Ragnar when he's done, hooking his elbow around Athelstan's arm to pull him along, “what do you say to going on an adventure?”

*

They stop in Earth's orbit for a while, on Athelstan's request. He stares at the planet, and then out to the stars, until he's dizzy and not sure where to look and has to sit down. He's far away from anything he's ever known, and he's about to be farther. Light years farther.

They come up behind him, flanking him. “Well?” Ragnar asks. “Are you ready to go?”

Athelstan turns away from the viewing window. “I am. Show me this restaurant.”

*

Other than an appetizer that's so bitter he can't even swallow it, the rest of the food at the restaurant is as delicious as the purple drink, if not more so. Ragnar and Lagertha beam at him the whole time he's eating, and Athelstan alternates between feeling a bit awkward about that and watching the rest of the clientele with wide eyes. There are people he never could have imagined eating foods he can't begin to describe, and it just seems to be a normal night at the restaurant.

The universe is much, much stranger than he ever imagined.

“What next?” Lagertha asks when they finish the meal. “We could take you home, if you like. Or if you'd rather ...”

Athelstan waits for the rest of that sentence, but it doesn't come. “If I'd rather?”

She sweeps a hand to the restaurant's window and the stars outside. “There's a lot to see, if you want to see it.”

Maybe this is the choice everyone else who was supposedly abducted got offered. Athelstan can't blame any of them for taking the same option that he's going to.

*

“You never did tell me why you picked me,” he says later. How much later, he's not sure. Time passes differently in space.

They exchange a look. “We got lost, actually,” Ragnar finally says. “We were looking for some kind of pop star that lives in your general area.”

Considering the scale of their lives, “general area” probably means “somewhere in England.” “And you decided I was a decent enough replacement?” He's not very offended. He's the one they abducted, after all, not whoever they were aiming for.

“We decided you were much better-looking,” says Lagertha. “We know how to change plans on the fly.”

It's likely the best answer he's going to get. Athelstan decides to give up and stop pressing. At least for a while. “Where are we going next?” he asks, and listens to them talk about a planet with mile-high cliffs and vertical forests and the hotel at the very bottom of the gorge between them where you can look up and see forest and sky.