Aliens land in the countryside and wish to be taken to the leader.
The evening was quiet for the hills; the crickets were singing in harmony and the bullfrogs were providing a steady baseline. Martha sat on the porch in her grandmother's old chair, rocking backwards and forwards so that the creak of the rockers filled in the gaps between the croaks. There was a hint of hay still on the air, the first of the harvests had started coming in. She allowed herself a smile; the young men thought that it was lifting the bales on hay onto the high-sided wagons that separated the men from the boys, but they'd discovered today that it was who thought that hayfever was a reason not to be out there working that really separated them. Jed Cullough had been shamed and would probably be doing the morning milking for his uncles for the rest of harvest.
The breeze soughed through the trees which rustled their branches in whispery applause, and she relaxed. Joe was already in bed, and Lambeth, their collie would be sprawled at the foot of the bed, not quite asleep and keeping one eye open for her to come to bed. The night air was cool though, and she wouldn't go in until it raised goosebumps on her skin; then she knew that Joe would roll over in his sleep, cuddle his arms around her and she'd drift off to sleep in just a few minutes. She smiled thinking about it, and rocked a little slower.
A bright ring of light flashed on the horizon. The trees were silhouetted against it for an instant, and Martha started. She waited for the roar of wings as the birds roosting in the trees took fright, but nothing seemed to happen. Green patches of light danced across her vision as the darkness returned, and a sudden rush of heat washed over her, making her skin tingle. She gripped the arms of the chair, suddenly certain that she didn't want to sit outside any longer, but her grip weakened as she started to stand, and instead she slumped back, slipping into unconsciousness.
She woke again and the porch was illuminated somehow. The light was harsh and electrical, casting sharp-edged shadows and bleaching the natural colours of the wooden boards. They seemed a white pine, when she knew that they were nicotine brown from long use. In front of her was a huge, insectile shape; an oval head with composite eyes each as large as her own head perched atop a slender body like a stretched out grasshopper. If she'd ever seen a preying mantis it would have seemed terribly familiar. What puzzled her though was that the insectile creature was a patchy black and white colour, a bizarre familiarity that had her wracking her brain trying to work out what was wrong.
The mantis lowed, a deep moo-ing sound that snapped the memory into focus: it was cow coloured. She stared at it, her fingers gripping the arms of the rocker so hard that they were going numb. It lowed again, a slightly longer, more mournful moo.
"I don't understand," she said. "Let me get Joe, he milks the cows."
The mantis moved jerkily, limbs snapping up faster than she could follow. One moment there was just the millionfold reflection of herself in its eyes, the next something black and rubbery was dangling from a claw whose teeth looked as though they might be made of hoof.
Something shuffled behind her, but before she could turn another hoof-edged claw had seized her head and was holding it still while the first mantis pushed the rubbery thing at her face. She opened her mouth quickly, realising that the mantis had no idea how to be gentle, and something warm and soft flopped through her lips onto her tongue. It tasted vaguely minty, and then it moved.
She tried to scream, but the rubbery thing sealed itself against her throat, swallowing the sound and converting it into a panicked moo. She mooed again and again, feeling something extrude from the mucal mass in her mouth and worm its way through her head. An unbearable itching started in her ears, and she reached up to try to scratch them, but the claw was in the way. Then the thing in her mouth stopped moving, and the itch subsided as quickly as it had started.
"We want information," mooed the mantis, and Martha realised that she could hear the mooing but it somehow made sense, as though it were being translated by the thing in her mouth and head. The English thought wasn't hers though, it was just placed in her head by something else, it was like reading subtitles, but faster.
"We would have asked the people where we landed, but they are all now unresponsive. We wish to speak to your mooooo".
The rubbery thing couldn't translate the last mooing into English it seemed.
"What is a meurrrrgh?" Her words were all turned into mooes, but she found it hard to mimic any of the mooes she heard.
"Your one-that-breeds-all-the-workers. The one in charge."
Martha wished that the mantis behind her would let go of her head so that she could clutch it in both her hands and try and wake up from this horrible nightmare. Did these insect creatures really think that humans, cows and ants were all the same species?