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I read this sci-fi short story about 30 years ago; it's set in the United States and the main character is an alien who landed on Earth to scout in advance of an invasion force.

The alien is decidedly non-human, but he is able to interact with the locals thanks to some technology or telepathic powers that makes him look like a normal human being to everyone within a very large radius (seen from afar, the alien could pass for human anyway).

While he assesses our world and thinks we will be easy prey for his fellow invaders, he is unaware that humans are on his trail.

I distinctly remember the alien discarding an almost empty packet of seeds (a snack from his world, like sunflower seeds); the trash is picked up and analyzed by government employees who determine that the seeds aren't from Earth plants (botanists even ask for more seeds to try and make them germinate); also the packet material is not man-made cellophane.

In the end the alien is dispatched by a sniper using a long-range rifle; seen through the rifle scope the target doesn't appear human at all. The invasion threat is averted.

Please help me find the title and author, I'd like to re-read this!

  • I first thought of World of Ptavvs by Larry Niven, but Kzanol couldn't pass for a human. – Spencer Sep 6 at 17:08
  • @Spencer — I suspect Kzanol could if he wanted to, but he really didn't think in terms of using the Power for stealth. – Gaultheria Sep 6 at 21:47
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This is almost certainly Eric Frank Russell's short story "Legwork", published in Astounding Science Fiction, April 1956.

Vanash was a twenty-four carat hypno, jeweled in every hole. Given a thinking mind to work upon at any range up to most of a mile, he could convince it in a split second that black was white, right was wrong, the sun had turned bright green, and the corner cop was King Farouk. Anything he imposed stayed stuck until he saw fit to unstick it.

Vanash is on a scouting mission preparing for an invasion. He is careless about leaving clues (like the seed packet), secure in his mental superiority.

The story swaps between following Vanash and a local cop who discoveres that something is off about a bank robbery that Vanash perpetrates to gain cash, and he follows the clues until he discovers the strange truth. At the end, a sniper takes out Vanash from a distance. The title of the story refers to how the cop finds the truth through good, old-fashioned, thorough legwork.

"Legwork" is collected e.g. in the collections Entities: The Selected Novels and Far Stars.

  • No sniper, no snack wrapper, no recon mission? What makes you think this is the correct story? – Zeiss Ikon Sep 9 at 12:43
  • @ZeissIkon: The story has all these elements; I just didn't think it necessary to repeat them. – Klaus Æ. Mogensen Sep 9 at 12:53
  • At least ticking them off on your answer would make it clearer that this is the right thing. What you quoted could be a completely different story, especially since the question had nothing about a copy or a bank robbery (and why would an alien recon scout get involved in robbing a bank anyway?). – Zeiss Ikon Sep 9 at 13:00
  • That issue of Astounding (and hence the story) is available at the Internet Archive. It appear it's a heavy machine gunner, not a sniper, that does the alien in, but that's close enough. – DavidW Sep 9 at 14:00
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    That's it! It's funny how I remembered some very specific words ("germinate" and "cellophane") while forgetting all the rest... Thanks a lot Mr. Mogensen! – Vorbis Sep 9 at 15:12

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