Monday, April 17, 2006


By Temperance Goodwrite

The three starships appeared in an instant, each as massive as an aircraft carrier. They were long and sleek and elegantly austere, and also made of wood. Decelerating out of hyperdrive, they lingered in orbit for a moment ― just long enough for a terrified NORAD commander to dial the White House ― and then the hulking spacecraft pointed their prows earthward, giant aft thrusters ignited like small suns, and they swooped down through the atmosphere toward Washington, D.C.

A squadron of fighter jets sent to intercept the spaceships was vaporized in a flash of blue light. Nuclear missiles streaked skyward from a nearby submarine, but they, too, failed to slow the atmospheric interlopers, bouncing harmlessly off the ships like so many twigs. Little did the Joint Chiefs of Staff know that the stout oak and walnut hulls of these alien craft were built with exquisite mortise and tendon construction and fortified by several coats of preternaturally lustrous shellac!

After blasting the Jefferson Memorial with another energy beam, the spaceships came to a hovering stop above the National Mall, blotting out the bright July sun and sending throngs of horrified tourists and souvenir vendors running for their lives. Enormous casters emerged from the bellies of the craft, and they settled to the ground with a deafening thump.

Secret Service agents were already hustling the president through an underground tunnel to his emergency rocket car when he was abruptly seized by an alien transporter ray. Seconds later, the commander in chief materialized in front of the lead starship, just as its gangplank was being lowered. The president instinctively crouched into his familiar judo posture, ready to defend himself against whatever terror the intergalactic behemoths were prepared to disgorge.

Down the gangplank walked a thin, pale creature with soft, kind eyes. Despite the summer swelter, he was dressed in a starched white shirt, plain black frock coat and a matching black hat. On his feet he wore simple black leather shoes, which were worn and dusty. The president unclenched his fists.

“Why, you’re a Shaker!” he cried. The creature in the hat nodded slowly and smiled.

“But how could this be?” the president said. “You’re a small sect of millennial Protestants that splintered off from the Quaker movement in the late 18th century. You live in a few tiny, isolated communities, where you tend gardens, practice abstinence and build simple but beautiful furniture!

“And your name," the president continued, "is derived from the term ‘Shaking Quaker,’ which refers to your peculiar practice of shaking during religious services.”

“Your knowledge of our kind is impressive indeed, Mr. President,” the alien said. “But there is something you should know. We are not just Shakers, we are Space Shakers. We do not combine an ascetic lifestyle with woodworking expertise merely to build furniture, we do so to build the tools we need to conquer the galaxy! And while we do shake" ― and now he gave the president a sly wink ― "we do so for a very different reason than our terrestrial brethren.”

With that, the Space Shaker’s eyes rolled back in his head, and he began to shake. Soon he was shaking so violently that he was no more than a blur. The president noticed that dozens of other Space Shakers had made their way down the gangplank and were also shaking. The ground beneath the president's feet began to tremble. Stately trees were uprooted. Water pipes burst like geysers. The Smithsonian museums began to buckle and collapse.

“Stop, stop!” the president cried. But the Space Shakers didn’t stop shaking until the nation's capital had been totally demolished. As far as the eye could see, not so much as a hotdog cart was left standing. The air was thick with dust. Bodies littered the Mall.

Bodies. It was this last item that particularly excited the Space Shakers. Hiding beneath a pile of debris, the president watched in horror as the aliens began to feast on the seemingly endless supply of corpses. Soon, the president thought, this nightmarish scene would be repeated in cities across America, and then around the world. All hope would be lost. Unless ...

The president suddenly remembered the amulet he wore around his neck. Many years ago, during his very first political campaign, a mysterious bearded stranger had given him this bejeweled charm and told him if he was ever in trouble, he should press the tiny button at its center. And that's what the president did now.

At that exact moment, on a small planet more than four light years away, an alarm sounded, an alarm that meant only one thing: The President of the United States needed help, and fast!

Minutes later, a fleet of intergalactic battle buggies was hurtling toward Earth. There was hope for humanity after all. The Amish of Alpha Centauri were on their way! And they were bringing their churns.

(For decades, readers the world over have thrilled to the science-fiction adventures of Temperance Goodwrite, from her acclaimed "Ukulele Robot Trilogy" to last year's award-winning "The Whores of Andromeda." )

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