“Mom! Dad! Shinies!” Elly and Sam ran to the back door, yanking at the doorknob, as Kyle climbed onto an end table and pressed his face against the window. In the scrapyard behind their house, the contents of a transparent box glittered.
“Whoa! Kids!” Mom clapped her hands twice; the two older kids turned to give her pleading looks. Kyle paid no attention. “What have we told you about shinies? Especially on cloudy days?”
Kyle, still pressed against the window, said, “The aliens are fishing. If you try to get the shinies, they’ll pull you up there. Then they’ll fry you and eat you.” His nose, pressed against the window, made him sound strange.
“That’s not true,” Sam protested. “They throw you back if you’re too little.”
“You wouldn’t taste good anyway.”
“Kyle!” Mom warned him, touching Sam to cut off a rejoinder. Kyle huffed and continued to watch.
“It came down out back?” asked Dad, coming through the front door and wiping his dirty hands on his shirt. Mom nodded.
“Jane at school says they always throw people back,” said Elly. “She said her uncle got caught, and they put him in a glider. He could see the whole world, and he knew kinda where he lived, so he tried to glide back home. But he still had to walk for a week after he landed.” She ran to give Dad a quick hug, then returned to the door.
“It’s my turn,” said Mom. She shooed Elly and Sam away from the door.
“Mom!” they protested.
“If we let you come outside to watch, do you promise to stay with me on the deck?” Dad asked.
All three kids cheered their agreement, and Kyle jumped down and joined the others in a flash. Mom opened the door, slipped through first, then stood at the steps and pointed the kids to the deck. They complied, grumbling, Dad grinning behind them. He picked up the spotlight while Mom got the hooksticks. This was the only life the kids had ever known: aliens in the sky, enticing people with shinies, and grownups playing tricks on the aliens. Their parents remembered a world in some ways better, yet poised on the brink of self-destruction, before the aliens changed everything. Dealing with aliens was hazardous, but a box of shinies was the only kind of wealth that mattered these days.
Dad pressed a button. The spotlight itself was a shiny — a piece of alien technology, bait taken from some earlier fishing trip. It showed no light of its own, but now a thin arc glowed above the shinies where Dad pointed it. “See that?” The kids nodded. “That’s their line. It’s a monomolecular filament, and it’ll stick to your skin or clothes if you touch it. Then you’re caught. That’s why we use the hooksticks. And that’s why one of us shines the line, so the other won’t get caught.”
“What’s mono— mono-leck-er?” Kyle asked.
“Monomolecular, stupid,” said Sam. It means it’s one piece and you can’t cut or break it.”
“Mom!” Kyle yelled. “Sam called me stupid! Could you stick him to the line?”
Mom caught the line with one hookstick. Without turning, she said, “If you two don’t stop, I’ll put you both on the line!”
“He started it,” Kyle muttered, soft enough that only Dad heard. He and Sam made faces at each other then turned to watch Mom. Elly ignored her two younger brothers, watching Mom and looking worried.
Mom used the second hookstick to catch the hook and pull it out of the shiny bait. The kids cheered as it came loose.
“This is the dangerous part,” Dad told the kids. “A gust of wind can blow the line around, maybe get loose and catch your mom. This is why you should never play around with shinies. We can use them, but we don’t understand them all that well, and they can be dangerous.”
“What kind of shinies are they, Dad?” asked Elly.
“We’ll find out in a few minutes.” He called to Mom, “The truck. It’s closest.”
Mom nodded, watching the line and glancing at her footing as she eased the hook over to the rusty flatbed truck. Using the hookstick, she slipped the aliens’ fishing hook onto the tow point after a few tries. Then she stepped back, tightening the line, and pulled hard.
The line snapped straight, jerking the hookstick out of Mom’s loose grip and sending it flying across the scrapyard. With a groan, the truck lifted into the air, swinging and twisting. Mom dropped the second hookstick and dashed for the deck. The kids watched gaping as the truck dwindled and disappeared into the clouds.
“We need to get in the shelter for a while, kids,” said Dad. “If that truck comes loose, it’ll squash anything it lands on!” He hugged Mom. “Great job. As always.”
Other than a usual Kyle-Sam squabble, they spent an uneventful half hour in the shelter. Finally, Mom said, “Let’s go see what they left us,” and the kids dashed shrieking into the daylight and the scrapyard.
“That’s a keeper!” Zubba chittered, looking at the truck twisting on the hook.
“Yeah,” said Xob. He used his gaffe to pull the catch onboard. The two of them squelched over to it, examining it for a few minutes. “Hey Zubba… you think they’ll ever figure out we’re fishing for iron?”