Take Meme to Your Leader was originally published in Unidentified Funny Objects 7, edited by Alex Shvartsman. It's a great book, full of funny sci-fi and fantasy stories.
I'm posting this story for free because it's about Internet memes, and I recognize that the nature of memes means they're ever-changing and what's funny now will be old news someday, possibly very soon. I'd love to seek reprint for this story and get paid for it, but honestly? I just want as many people as possible to enjoy it while it's still relevant.
Take Meme to Your Leader
Jennifer Lee Rossman
I always thought when aliens invaded, they'd have giant ships hovering ominously over the major world cities. They'd demand to be taken to our leaders, right? Or skip that step entirely and just blast us to hell?
That's what they were supposed to do. And then Will Smith would come and say something cool and we'd all be safe, at least until the sequel.
They pick me, Maddie Espinoza, Youtuber.
And they choose to invade in the middle of one of my makeup tutorials. This huge, hulking reptilian thing with giant eyes, just standing in the corner of my bedroom while I demonstrate the proper way to get the perfect smokey eye.
I scream, brandishing my curling iron like a gun and praying to Sephora, patron saint of cosmetics, that its planet doesn't have curling irons. It doesn't so much as flinch, just stands there like a cardboard cutout of a floppy-haired teen idol outside the FYE at the mall.
Wait. Is it a cutout?
It could very well be one of the xenomorphs from Alien, except with a few extra arms. And, you know, the pink pussy hat. I stand up straight, craning my neck to get a better look. It's just like my damn roommates to play this sort of prank but my dog doesn't usually growl at cutouts and OH GOD IT BLINKED.
What do I do, what do I do?
I decide my best option is screaming again and throwing a bottle of mascara at its head. In hindsight, maybe not Top Ten Greatest Idea I've Ever Had material, but it doesn't interpret my actions as an act of war, so I think we're good. It just waves one of its six arms and opens its fanged mouth in a gruesome attempt at a smile.
"Much hello," he says in a tiny voice not befitting his whole seven-foot tall murder-cicada aesthetic, "many peace."
I blink and lower my curling iron. "What."
"Much hello, many peace," he repeats. "I come to seek help from Earth. My planet is in danger from our tyrannical leader. He protec, but he also attac with nuclear weapons."
And just like that, the fear and wonder of first contact is gone. I'm talking to an actual extraterrestrial... and he's speaking in Internet memes.
"What," I say again.
"But he also attac," I mutter. "Yeah, I heard you." I hit record on my computer because no one will ever believe it otherwise, and pick up Cashew before she escalates from growling to biting. "Okay, fine. Let's pretend I buy that you're not here to kill us all. You're about a thousand miles from anyone important enough to begin to help with your problem."
He nods. Should I be calling it a "he"? It sounds like a male voice. Other than the hat, it isn't wearing a stitch of clothing, and its body is covered in a hard shell. Not a lot of visible genitalia.
"Yes, but your queen has much security." At my blank look, he elaborates, "Queen Selena Gomez the First. I could not access her castle, so I went down the list and chose a smol duchess at random."
He produces a device that looks like a phone — from what pocket of his nonexistent clothes, I don't even want to know — and steps toward me. I step back, because that's what you do when an alien is walking toward you and you're all out of Reese's Pieces.
"Y u no trust me?" he says. I swear, I can hear the chatspeak in his voice.
"You're an alien," I say, trying to keep the fear from my voice. "Our culture teaches us to be afraid of..." I gesture vaguely at him. "Things like you."
He turns and stares helplessly at the computer.
"What are you doing?" I ask after a full minute has passed.
"Looks at camera like I'm on The Office." He does that awful smile thing again as he turns back to me. "We know all about your culture. Learned from your series of tubes." He indicates the phone, and shows me what appears to be a list of the most followed Instagram accounts. He has to scroll down quite a few pages to get to my name, but hey. If he thinks that makes me Earth royalty, I'm not about to disenchant him of that notion.
The alien bends down to look at Cashew. "And here we have a doggo," he says, sounding like a narrator in a nature documentary. "Notice its shiny wet boop-snoot, which is believed to serve the same function as a human nose."
I cover my face with my hand and take deep breaths, fighting back the hysterical laughter bubbling up inside me.
Aliens exist, they've learned English from social media, and they want my help to save their planet. Because Selena Gomez was busy. This is fine.
You know that thing where people say "It's quiet in here—too quiet"? Well, it's way too quiet in here.
Alieny McAlienface (swear to god, that's what he calls himself) went downstairs while I changed into more professional clothes. Somehow I doubt my narwhal-print pajamas will make the security guy at the Pentagon take us seriously when we ask to come in and talk to [important person]. Then again, I'll be with a seven-foot insect in a pussy hat. No one will be looking at me.
But I haven't heard a peep since.
I head downstairs cautiously, half hoping it was all a hallucination from moldy eye shadow. No such luck.
I find Alieny McAlienface standing in the common room, his buggy yellow eyes closed in what looks like ecstasy. He's foaming at the mouth.
I cling to the banister, unsure whether I should help him or defend the planet. "What's wrong?"
His eyes snap open and he gives me a fangy grin. "Nothing wrong. I am partaking in an Earthly custom." When I don't respond, he adds, "I have eaten the Tide Pods that were in the laundry room."
Any fear I have of this thing invading the planet fizzles away, and I find myself wondering exactly how wrong it would be if I asked Alieny McAlienface to do the cinnamon challenge.
"That's great," I say. "Good for you. That's totally not toxic." How is this my life... "So where are you from?"
His face lights up. "Why not visit Zoltar VII? We have murder noodles! Sandcastle rubble! Fire boi! Meow birds! Sister Mary Catherine! Bleeding thermometers!"
Never have I been at such a loss for words. "Okay then. Are you ready to go—"
Another alien appears in the room, just there in the blink of an eye without any special effects or anything.
This one's head scrapes the ceiling; he easily has two feet in height on Alieny McAlienface. And two feet in limbs, making the overall appearance even more buglike.
I should be afraid. I should be screaming my head off like Drew Barrymore meeting ET, but honestly. What's the difference between having one enormous alien in your house and having two? It's not like the day could get any weirder.
Pro-tip: I don't care how weird your day is. I don't care if you wake up to the sound of your pillowcases putting on a Hamilton parody called Shamilton, or if your betta fish suddenly develops the ability to speak in a voice that sounds uncannily like Patrick Stewart. If you value your safety at all, do not tempt the universe by saying your day can't get weirder. It doesn't like that, and it will find a way to turn the weird shit up to eleven.
In my case, that means Alieny McAlienface shrieks "He comes to attac!" while spraying detergent all over the room, and thrusts his head behind the coat rack.
The big one, for what it's worth, seems completely flummoxed by Alieny McAlienface's sudden disappearance, and whirls about dramatically shouting, "All your base are belong to us! All your base are belong to us!"
Now, I'm not the brightest lip gloss in the pack, but even I can take a hint. This is the leader, the one who protec but also attac. And now he's on Earth.
Rage surges in me, but I go and hide behind the coat rack because I'm a scared little cinnamon roll.
"This is good," Alieny McAlienface confides in me, grinning. "He can has Earth, and my people can be free."
Is he serious? "I'm not giving him Earth. It's the only planet with caffeine and Hemsworth brothers."
He blinks, his mouth drawn into a perfectly straight line. "Neutral face emoji?"
"No. Red face with symbols over mouth emoji. Besides, I don't have the authority to give Earth to an alien. You'd have to get Selena Gomez's permission."
Alieny McAlienface gives me a skeptical look. Out beyond the safety of the coat rack, if the crashes of broken glass are any indication, the leader has begun his conquest of Earth, starting with picture frames and tchotchkes.
I wonder if damage by alien overlords is covered by my pet deposit, but push the thought aside. "Why are we hiding behind a coat rack?"
"We do not have x-ray vision," Alieny McAlienface says, as if that explains everything. "He cannot see us through the clothes."
"Yes, but he saw us go back here—" I shake my head. Don't question the things keeping us from being killed. "Okay. So going to ask the government for help isn't an option. We need a more immediate plan of attack."
Alieny McAlienface holds up his communication device. "I will call my friend and he will charge in and valiantly defeat the enemy."
"Hang on." If they learned about us from the Internet... "Is your friend named Leeroy Jenkins?"
He nods excitedly.
"No. Something else." I think back to what he said about his planet. "You come from a place with sandcastle rubble and bleeding thermometers. Is it a desert? Is it hot?"
"It is all the hot."
"Tell me more. What can hurt you?"
He thinks for a minute. "Venomous snakes."
"Something I might have access to."
"Oh." He thinks again. A curio cabinet crashes in the dining room. "Cold," Alieny McAlienface says finally. "Cold wetness. We freeze into special little broflakes." He licks a bit of detergent foam from his lip, and an idea strikes me.
I grab his phone—it has a Hello Kitty cover, because of course it does—and message myself so I have his number. "Wait thirty seconds and toss this to your leader." Another crash in the dining room betrays the big guy's location, and I waste no time running to the kitchen.
"Warning!" Alieny McAlienface screams as I fill a glass with cold water and toss in a few ice cubes. "He is sliding into your DMs! And also your kitchen!"
I hold out my phone and start recording. The fate of the world is about to rely on an outdated viral video campaign. "This is the ice bucket challenge. I'm tagging the big cicada-looking dickhead who's about to murder me."
The ice water is a shock to my system, but I hit Send just as the Hello Kitty phone smacks the leader in the back of the head. My voice replays, tinny and distant, and he stops dead in his tracks to watch.
His shoulders slump in an uncannily human way as he realizes I've tagged him, and he walks toward me. I hold my breath as the tyrannical alien leader steps up to me, but he merely meets my eyes and growls, "I am bound by your decree to perform this ritualized baptism of ice and buckets."
He wrenches the glass from my hand and fills it, never breaking eye contact.
"So what happens now?" I ask Alieny McAlienface as we scoop the remains of his leader into a very dignified garbage bag.
"Now my people must learn to govern themselves. Rebuilding the government got me like—" He puts a hand on either side of his face and does his best impersonation of Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. "—but we can do it. There are probably many YouTube tutorials about starting a democracy."
"You might try looking up an ancient series of texts by the great scholar Schoolhouse Rock."
His eyes light up. "Ooh, we shall indeed. And should we ever require your planet's assistance—"
"I know. You'll go to Selena Gomez."
"We will go to she with the most followers," he corrects, and points to my phone.
For a second, my brain refuses to acknowledge the number beside my name as an actual number, but it's true. I have close to two hundred million followers. I look at Alieny McAlienface, my mouth hanging open.
"Our population is numerous," he says simply. "It's over 9000!" He takes the bag o'dead leader and drops to one knee. "And now, Queen Maddie Espinoza the First and Royal Doggo Cashew the Floofiness, I must leave you with the traditional farewell of my people, which we learned of in your most sacred religious tome."
"Wikipedia?" I guess.
"The Urban Dictionary," he corrects. Alieny McAlienface takes my hand and Cashew's paw, and pauses dramatically. "Bye, Felicia," he says, and then he's gone.