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art by Ron Sanders

This Doesn't Appear to be the Alien I Paid For

Andrea Stewart was born in Canada and raised in a number of places across the United States. She spent her childhood immersed in Star Trek and odd-smelling library books. When her dreams of becoming a dragon slayer didn't pan out, she instead turned to writing. Her work won first place in Writers of the Future 29, and her short stories have sold to Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Galaxy’s Edge. She now lives in California with her husband and a veritable menagerie of animals on her suburban micro farm.
1532 Mayberry Lane
New Haven, BR 83623
Athena, Milky Way, Perseus Arm
August 1, 2313
Gro-Life Science Kits, Inc.
Consumer Complaint Division
41 West Harbor Lane
Brekken, YA 26854
Podunk, Andromeda, New Outer
Dear Sir or Madam:
When my seven-year-old daughter asked for a pet, I sensed an opportunity to teach her something about the universe. I'd seen your ads while browsing the Net, while catching an episode of my favorite holo, and while utilizing the urinal on the fifth floor of my office. (Yes, your ads are everywhere.) Why buy her a puppy when I could get her a moggin? I'd help her care for it through its larval stage, we'd watch it pupate, and once it emerged she'd get two years of watching the critter scurrying about its tank.
As you may have guessed, reality did not meet my expectations.
Admittedly, your company responded promptly to my order. Although intergalactic shipping can be slow and tedious, my Gro-Life kit arrived in twelve days. Our moggin slept in its stasis cube, the green light blinking in time to its heartbeat. It was an endearing thing--the size of my thumb and covered in green fuzz. Everything you'd promised was included in the kit: the bag of larval food, the clear plastic habitat, the informational booklet, and enough gravel and fake plants to make the habitat look like Podunk.
As soon as my daughter opened the box, she wanted to unpack the terrarium and wake the moggin. I don't think she even remembered asking for a puppy. According to the booklet, we'd received a plum-eared moggin. This species was docile and sweet, and would grow to the size of a dwarf hamster. For the first two weeks, I had no complaints. We spent father-daughter time playing with the moggin. Its eighteen legs tickled our palms and its pink eyes were adorable.
But by the third week, we were low on larval food and the moggin showed no signs of pupating. No swollen belly, no increased lethargy, no dullness to its fuzz. I called your customer service line.
"This happens sometimes," your representative assured me. Although I expressed concerns, Christopher said that Gro-Life "implements a strict policy of quality control" and that "only licensed xenobiologists are authorized to care for the company's larvae."
Two weeks later, our moggin pupated. Its chrysalis was not the "sea-foam green" your booklet promised. I would have described it more as "fresh bruise" or "unsightly rash."
My daughter was delighted when the creature emerged, but upon comparison to the art in the booklet, I noticed a few differences. As expected, our moggin had six legs and short fur. But its fur was light brown instead of dark, with a narrow strip of red running down its back. The red stripe contained a number of tiny spines. Your reading material, while elaborating on the moggin's "teddy-bear eyes," failed to mention these.
It was not the size of a dwarf hamster. A standard hamster? Perhaps.
To my consternation, our moggin wasn't interested in a varied diet of fresh fruit and vegetables. After two days of refusing everything we offered (during which my daughter cried herself to sleep and wondered if her pet was going to die), our moggin began to eat raw ground beef. And to grow.
I called your customer service line again. This time, Linda, without listening to my full complaint, told me that there "will be some variation in the color" of the moggins, and that "each moggin has its own food preferences." I tried to interrupt her, but she firmly reminded me that your company does not offer exchanges on adolescent moggins, and that the 30-day refund policy had expired.
It was the growth of our eight-month-old moggin's spines that prompted me to do my own research.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that plum-eared moggins do not exist. We'd been saddled with mogginus clavermiculus--the crimson-striped moggin.
I'd refrain from explaining since you have "licensed xenobiologists" on staff, but clearly they require remedial instruction in species identification. The crimson-striped moggin grows to the size of a wombat, has poisonous spines on its back, and is carnivorous. Its lifespan is not the quaint two years claimed, but thirty years.
Although I was tempted to set the moggin loose in a nearby park, further research unveiled that they can reproduce at one year of age through parthenogenesis. Crimson-striped moggins are considered an invasive species, and are banned on fifty-eight planets. I have neither the desire nor resources to house this creature's offspring (did you know they can produce twenty-five babies at one time? Did you??), especially since it escaped one night and has acquired a taste for domestic felines.
A third call to your customer service line resulted in Darren pointing out the fine print on the back of your booklet: "It is the responsibility of the buyer to check all local laws and restrictions regarding moggins." When I told him that Gro-Life had sent me the wrong species, he argued that this was impossible. When I explained that our moggin had devoured the neighbor's cat and asked to speak to his supervisor, he told me he didn't have one.
Due to your company's general incompetence, I am the owner of an alien species that is illegal on my planet.
Or I was until early last week.
By now you must have received my unmarked package. This may be too late, but it would be prudent to exercise caution when opening it. Unfortunately, I was unable to afford an appropriately-sized stasis cube for our crimson-striped moggin. But not to worry, my research tells me that our moggin can survive up to three weeks without food (though this makes them quite unsociable and likely to discharge their spines upon slight provocation). Given our moggin's age, you may also find twenty-five or so little "surprises" in the box with it.
Keep them, please; they are my gift to you.
Sincerely,
Richard Steiner
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, March 13th, 2014


This story was actually inspired by my coworker, who found herself in a similar situation after purchasing a grow-your-own-tadpole kit. Her story inspired so much mirth and sympathy in me, and I wondered what would have happened had she written the company a complaint letter and if her situation had perhaps been a little bit more dire.

- Andrea G Stewart

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