Cars lined both sides of the Wyoming highway as far as the eye could see.
"Did you bring the welder's glasses?" Mel asked.
"Right, in the trunk, though we won't need them during totality. I've also remembered my new mobile," Allie said, patting the pockets of her vest. "The resolution on the camera is fantastic." They climbed out of the rental SUV and set up their chairs. Allie slathered on some sunscreen.
"Only a few more minutes," Mel said.
"Pardon me, are you here for the eclipse?" a voice said.
Mel looked up from his clock app.
"Of course—we all are."
The speaker wore a black suit, string tie, and sunglasses, like one of those "Men in Black" characters from the movies.
"You're quite fortunate to be able to see a total solar eclipse," the man said.
"You've got that right," Mel responded. "We went to Hawaii in '91, and it clouded over, so we missed the whole bloody thing. Wasted trip, and ten thousand pounds down the drain. Now, I've got my weather app to keep an eye on things."
"Interesting," the man said. He glanced at his wrist. "Hmm. I've got galactic standard date 499789:23:12. It's coming right up. Mind if I wait with you?"
"No problem," Mel said. Allie smiled assent. "Care for a popsicle?"
The man blinked and paused a second or two. "Oh, a frozen dessert? Thank you very much, but that won't be necessary."
"Suit yourself." Allie fished a grapesicle out of the cooler and tore off the wrapper.
"How'd you hear about the eclipse?" Mel asked, just to be polite—he was from Bristol. "Some sort of scientist too? I'm a geologist, myself."
"Actually, I arrange tours," the man said. "Eclipses are a big part of our business."
"What happens if an eclipse falls through, like our Hawaii trip?" Allie asked. "Do you have to give out a refund?"
"No, that's never necessary."
"Never? That's hard to believe."
"Well, to begin with, it's extremely rare for a moon to eclipse the exact circumference of the solar disk as viewed from the planet below, yielding the famous "diamond ring effect," Sunglasses Man said. "Clients are willing to pay well for a guaranteed result, so we never disappoint."
Mel cleared his throat. "It's never guaranteed. It could rain." He eyed the horizon, where cumulus had begun to tower above the nearby mountain range. "Chances are better in the morning, before convective activity gets going," he added. Frowning, he looked down at his smartphone. "Oh bother, it looks like we might miss another one. Look at the red on this radar display. It's headed right our way."
Sunglasses Man shrugged. "You know, for a small fee, we can help you out."
"Help us out where? We don't have a helicopter, and this traffic jam's made it impossible to drive to another location."
"We've set up a temporary viewing platform about a hundred miles up," the man replied. "Nothing but a little low-orbiting space junk up there to get in our way. I'll introduce you to the other clients…"
"The only people I know of who can go a hundred miles up are SpaceX, and I don't have a million pounds," Mel said, a bit crossly.
"Please, enjoy the view on me," the man said. "It's probably the last opportunity you natives will have. If you'll just sign here. . . "
"By signing, we're under no obligation, right?" Allie said. "We've been to timeshare presentations before, and you can't trick us into buying anything."
"Yeah," Mel said. "Won't get fooled again."
"As I said, this astronomical alignment is rare in the galaxy. This real estate is just so valuable, you see. As Earth's representatives, you'll simply be giving us permission to create a permanent viewing resort for visitors in this quadrant."
"I don't know," Mel demurred. "But I have to say I'd practically give my soul to finally see an eclipse after waiting so long…"
A saucer-shaped drone appeared above them, blaring in a synthesized voice: “For your safety, we advise all unauthorized visitors to stop driving and clear the area."
A bright green tongue flicked out, as Sunglasses Man licked his lips in anticipation.
"Oh, my God," Allie said. "He's an alien!"
"Say, are you trying to pull the wool over our eyes?" Mel said. " You can't honestly expect us to sign Earth over on your say-so."
Sunglasses Man grimaced. "We all have to learn to deal with change. Take me, for example. It's been increasingly difficult to remain unobtrusive ever since you invented all these little recording devices." He pointed to Allie's mobile. "So? Last chance to see an astoundingly rare total solar eclipse at no charge…"
Mel looked at Allie. "Thirty-eight years," he said. "Stars in the daytime."
She nodded. Their questions had been answered to their satisfaction.
"Alright, hand me that pen. We'll be damned if we're going to miss another eclipse."
"I hope we're not going to get probed," Allie said. "Are we?"
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