Louis was home in the middle of the day, because he was sick. If it was up to him, he would have been at school. Today they were going to make ice cream as a science experiment. That was much better than staying in bed and staring at the ceiling.
Unfortunately, Mom said that if you have a fever and a runny nose, and a terrible cough, and a sore throat and can’t stop sneezing, then you should stay home. Throwing up after breakfast hadn’t helped his argument at all, either. So, Louis blew his nose again and sneezed and looked at the ceiling. Ceilings are boring.
“Mom, I’m bored,” Louis yelled. Then he coughed. Ouch. His throat really hurt.
“Then take a nap,” his mom yelled back. “You need to rest so that you can heal.”
Louis scowled. He was much too old for naps, and he wasn’t at all sleepy. Well, he was maybe a little bit tired. But not really enough to fall asleep yet. He turned and watched the shadows on the wall move. The wind must be blowing through the tree outside.
And then, the shadows started to fade, or maybe the room started to glow. Louis wasn’t quite sure. It was all a little strange. Everything looked a little bit foggy. Louis blinked, and when he opened his eyes, he wasn’t in his bedroom any more.
He was in a strange metal room filled with blinking lights. Something was making a clicking sound. Three tall skinny beings with greenish skin and bright blue eyes looked at him. They were definitely aliens. Louis looked back. One of the aliens said something, but Louis didn’t know what he was saying. “I don’t speak your language,” Louis said.
The aliens approached and one of them looked closely into Louis’s face. The aliens smelled like dust. Lots of dust. Louis sneezed right into the alien’s face, and then he couldn’t stop sneezing.
The alien backed up, but the other two crowded closer. The sneezing hurt his throat and upset his stomach. Louis threw up on the other two aliens. The aliens backed up and bowed. One of the aliens pushed a button on the wall, and the room started to get brighter. Everything looked foggy. Louis blinked.
And he was back in his room looking up at the ceiling. Had any of that really happened? Mom knocked on the doorframe and came in. “How are you feeling?” she asked. “Any better?”
“Mom, I was just captured by aliens,” Louis said. “I threw up all over them, so they let me go.”
“That sounds like a nice dream,” Mom said. “Is your stomach still upset?” She put her hand on his forehead. “Oh dear, you’re still quite warm. Would you like some ice cream?”
“For lunch?” Louis asked.
“Why not,” Mom said. “You’re feeling sick.”
Maybe being sick wasn’t so bad, except for the staring at the ceiling part. Even being captured by aliens wasn’t terrible. It had been kind of interesting. If it really happened at all, of course.
Two days later, Louis was back in class. He’d missed the ice cream experiment and a math quiz, but otherwise things had been pretty quiet at school. Susie said that Dan threw up on the slide just a day ago.
Louis decided that being sick probably happened to everybody at one time or another. He was glad that he felt better now and could move forward. He hoped he didn’t feel sick again anytime soon and that he never threw up on the slide. That sounded embarrassing.
Hundreds of thousands of miles away, the crew of an alien space ship coughed and sneezed and stared at the ceiling and tried not to throw up. “I thought it was too eager to give us the samples we required. It was completely suspicious,” one said.
“I thought it believed we were peaceful scientists,” another replied. “How was I to know it recognized us as a possible threat.” The alien sneezed and sneezed and sneezed.
“Well, I’m going to recommend we don’t try to colonize this world. The inhabitants are far too hostile. And they don’t fight fair, either,” the last one said. And then he threw up.
The boss smiled and handed the designs back to Alex. “That is exactly what we were looking for,” he said.
Alex nodded. “Great! So, I’ll contact Bob and we can start filling out the paperwork.”
The boss shook his head. “I have some one else in mind.”
“Not Bob?” Alex was shocked. “We always work with Bob.”
“Yes, but the new guy says he’ll work for free and provide all the building materials,” the boss said.
Alex frowned. “That sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch?”
The boss laughed. “He’s going to need a lot of training. He’s pretty new to the planet.”
“What do you mean?” Alex asked.
“Just what I said,” the boss said. He pushed the intercom button. “Ella, can you send Webster in?”
“Webster? That’s an unusual name,” Alex said.
“It’s his human name,” the boss said. “For when he’s an exchange student here, learning how to live with humans. He says it’s the author of his favorite earth book. He even has an artificial human suit to wear to blend in with us humans.”
A man came in wearing a black suit with a white scarf tied around his neck and a white powdered wig on his head. “Hello,” he said. “I’m Webster.” He held a hand out and Alex shook it. He held his other hand out and Alex shook it too.
“Hello, Webster,” Alex said. “I’m Alex. I’m one of the architects in the firm.”
The boss stood up. “Alex, take Webster with you to the Gregson job. Show him the ropes, all right?”
“Okay,” Alex said. “Come with me, Webster. I’ll give you a ride to the site.”
Today they were going to pour the foundation for the Gregson Dental Center. Webster looked around the large hole dug into the ground and wiggled the metal and wooden framework with his foot. “So, you fill this with liquid rock, right?” he asked.
“Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that,” Alex said.
“Oh, that’s okay,” Webster said. “I’ve got this.” He pulled out what looked like a little pen and wrote something in the air above the waiting framework.
The framework started filling up with lava. Alex jumped back. The wood burned and the metal melted like it was ice on a hot day. “What did you do?” He asked.
“Provided building materials,” Webster said. “It was part of our agreement.”
“But the lava’s in contact with air. It will cool too quickly to be stable and solid,” Alex said. “We use concrete for building.”
Alex sighed. “It’s a mix of gravel and sand and cement and water. I’ll show you, after you get rid of the lava.”
“Oh, you’ll have to wait until it cools and dig it out,” Webster said. “I can’t unmake things. I guess I could make a windstorm or a sinkhole or…”
“Just leave it there,” Alex said. “We’ll deal with it later. Let’s go over to the new supermarket addition. We’re building the supports for the walls.”
They drove across town. Webster’s face was pressed to the window. “These human eyes can’t see as far as my normal eyes,” he said. “Do you have a telescope?”
“Not with me,” Alex said.
At the construction site, Alex knelt down and patted the foundation.
“This must be concrete,” Webster said. “Maybe I should take a sample.”
“Leave it be,” Alex said. “I’ll give you a sample of concrete later. For now, we’ll be starting the supports.”
“That’s right,” Webster said. “What are they made out of?”
“Wood,” Alex said. “Here’s a list of the sizes we’ll need.”
“Tree products,” Webster said. “I can do that. I saw tree products all over the office when I was there.”
He wrote in the air, and large support beams made of paper appeared on the ground in front of them. “Almost, but not quite,” Alex said. “This is processed tree product and isn’t as strong as wood. Let’s go to a hardware store and I can let you see the materials we’ll be working with.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” Webster said. “Do they have telescopes?”
“No,” Alex said. “Just building materials and tools.”
“Oh well,” Webster said. “Let’s get going. I’m looking forward to seeing how you preserve the ice blocks you build with. It seems much too warm for them to stay stable.”
“It is,” Alex said. “They don’t build with ice here.”
“No,” Alex said. “But we do use bricks that are made from baked clay.”
“Oh good,” Webster said. “Let’s go see some of those. I want to send some home to my friends.”
“Sounds great,” Alex said. “Let’s go.”