In this story, the humans are scared because their radars, etc., cannot detect the alien spaceship (which is holding a conversation that's threatening to them), and humans believe that the alien spaceship has some amazing cloaking mechanism.

The truth is that (spoiler here) these are really microscopic aliens in a tiny ship, and they're just having fun, scaring humans!

  • Hi, welcome to the site. In roughly which year did you read this story, and when do you think it might've been published? Also, did you read it in a magazine, an anthology, or online? Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 6:57
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    Hi, I read it some 3-4 years back, in an old short scifi story collection (some kind of a megapack) that I came across on Project Gutenberg. The trouble is that there are so many of such megapacks there, that I cannot locate it again! My guess is, it must have been published in 60s.
    – user149167
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 7:15
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    "Obedience" by Frederic Brown has microscopic aliens accidentally scaring humans. Are you sure that in your story it was deliberate? Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 7:16
  • Thanks a lot for your suggestion. Yes, in the story that i came across, it was a full-on intimidation and counter-intimidation by both sides. Only towards the end, one discovers that the aliens were cracking up, doing this to humans.
    – user149167
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 7:28
  • 4
    This reminds me of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy bit where aliens gear up for a massive, full scale invasion of earth, only to arrive and accidentally be entirely swallowed by a small dog. (The aliens wildly miscalculated their relative size)
    – BruceWayne
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 14:57

2 Answers 2


I wonder if this is "A Matter of Magnitude" by Al Sevcik. It is available on Project Gutenberg, so that at least matches.

In the story the gigantic human ship is menaced by an unknown alien ship they can't detect, so the human ship flees thinking the aliens must be too advanced to confront.

Big Joe (as she is known) is a damn Big Ship:

"She's a mighty big ship, Rogers," he said proudly to the navigator, ignoring the latter's rather vacant stare and fixed smile. "More than a mile long, and wider than hell."


Heselton smiled modestly and noted that Big Joe was undisputedly the largest, most powerful, most feared, and most effective spaceship in the known universe.

They get a signal from a nearby ship they can't see:

"Sir," another voice chimed in, "this is fire control. We've got our directional antennas on the thing. It's either directly right or directly left of the ship, matching speed with us exactly."

"Either to our right or left?"

"That's the best we can do, sir, without radar help."

"Admiral, sir," the lieutenant who had first reported the signal came running back. "Judging from the frequency and strength, we think it's probably less than a hundred miles away."

"Less than a hundr..."

Once the aliens realize the Earth ship can't see them they find it hilarious, and they threaten the Earth ship:

The alien's face, still smirking, appeared again on the screen. "He says," said the interpreter, "that he finds the presence of our armed ship very annoying."

Heselton knew what he had to do. "Tell him," he said, swallowing hard, "that we apologize. This part of the galaxy is strange to us."

"He says he is contemplating blasting us out of the sky."

The Earth ship, unable to fight what it can't see, retreats, but finally the scientists figure out what was going on:

"Look, sir," the professor gasped for breath. "We thought this was a spot on the negative, but one of the men got curious and enlarged it about a hundred times." He held up one of the photos. It showed a small, fuzzy, but unmistakable spaceship. "No wonder we couldn't spot it with our instruments."

Heselton snatched it out of his hand. "I see what you mean. This ship must have been thousands of miles..."

The professor shook his head. "No, sir. As a matter of fact, it was quite close by."


"We figure that the total length of the alien ship was roughly an inch and a half."


This may be "Obedience" by Frederic Brown. First published in Super Science Stories in 1950, it has been anthologised many times, possibly the OP came across it in The Second Fredric Brown Megapack: 27 Classic Science Fiction Stories

The protagonists, Captain May and Lieutenant Ross, are on routine patrol when they see an alien ship. The aliens attempt to communicate with them telepathically, but following standard orders they open fire on it. They see no wreckage though, and assume that the aliens must have some jamming technology; in fact it is because the ship (and aliens) are microscopic.

Ross realizes that the aliens are peaceful, and allows the rest of the alien fleet to sneak past the Terran cordon by having them attach themselves to the hull of his ship so they are undetected. Following "General Order Thirty Nine" he then blasts off in a random direction in outer space to leave them somewhere where they won't be bothered.

A scene occurs in the story when Ross starts laughing uncontrollably while communicating with the aliens. This doesn't quite fit with the OP's recollection (the aliens don't understand the emotion), but it may be the source of the memory.

The start of the story is quite notable:

On a tiny planet of a far, faint star, invisible from Earth, and at the farther edge of the galaxy, five times as far as man has yet penetrated into space, there is a statue of an Earthman. It is made of precious metal and it is a tremendous thing, fully ten inches high, exquisite in workmanship.

Bugs crawl on it...

the bugs being the race of aliens who crafted it to honor Ross.

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    Thanks for your suggestion. Have gone through Obedience, but it's not the one i'm looking for. But thanks a lot as i found it an amazing story.
    – user149167
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 8:06
  • Well I thought it was worth a try. Good luck with finding it! Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 8:27

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