The illegal alien

Charlie Jones was an extra on the set of a second-rate science-fiction series, but he never took off his costume. He couldn’t. The other actors just thought he was a method actor, that staying in his costume meant staying in character. They didn’t know how he could possibly endure the heat in that suit, or how he got the fake fur to be so lustrous and soft. The trick is that it wasn’t a trick. He really was an alien. Sure, he wasn’t a “Graglethorp” or whatever silly random assortment of letters the writers came up with. He was an Acthun, of the planet Acthunis, in the Gamma quadrant. Of course, his people didn’t call it the “Gamma” anything, seeing as they didn’t know Greek and they certainly didn’t think of themselves as third in line. “Gamma” only makes sense if you think of yourself as first (Alpha) and you’ve already found your first neighboring quadrant with more planets. It was kind of how many indigenous cultures simply called themselves “The People” since they had no reason to differentiate between themselves and other humans. As far as they know they were the only humans.

Charlie Jones had an Acthun name, but it wasn’t pronounceable to humans. Their tongues would need to be bifurcated in order to get the right trill. And even if he said it humans tended to cover up their ears because the pitch was so high. So he came up with a “normal” name, one that wouldn’t mark him as foreign. He really needed this job to work out and couldn’t afford to be discriminated against, even unintentionally. He had a family at home that was depending on him to send back money.

He couldn’t wire transfer it, or mail it. PayPal wouldn’t work for off-world bank accounts (not yet). So once he got his check cashed, he’d photograph half of the money, email the picture to the neighborhood administrator (who had a Gmail account like everybody else) and then burn the money so he couldn’t use it. The administrator would then credit his family’s account with the appropriate amount (once the exchange rate was taken into consideration) and then they could pay their bills.

There weren’t a lot of bills to pay, but even a little is too much when you don’t have an income. Only Charlie was allowed to work, being the only one in the family above 20 and below 50. And male, of course. Everyone else was forbidden by law to work, it being seen as too much of a hardship. Most Acthuns worked the same job nonstop for 30 years and then retired, some to plenty and some to poverty. The jobs were chosen for them in high school. It was believed that by then your personality and aptitude were locked. Everyone took a series of tests and their appropriate career was computed for them. Some care was taken to ensure that the job would be something they would like and be good at it, but it wasn’t an exact science. Mistakes were sometimes made, but usually the citizen just quietly endured, or took up drinking cactus wine to cope.

But not Charlie. He’d been unhappy with his job since the first week, after the (inadequate) apprenticeship was over. He was sure the counselor had made a mistake, maybe swapped his test with someone else’s, or transposed a number when typing in the data. S/he assured him that wasn’t possible because s/he been doing this job for 20 years and there’d never been a complaint.

S/he was an exception, a non-male who was allowed to work. Not a female, and yet not a male, but something other, undefined. The Acthuns understood that there were shades of reality, that rarely was anything 100% one way or another. They understood the concept of “gray” and were amused that was the term for extraterrestrial visitors used on Earth, along with “alien”. So they had a third gender, and these citizens were allowed to work if they wanted to, and could choose any job not already assigned to a male. But they were not obliged to work and could collect the same communal salary that unattached females and seniors were entitled to if they had no male to support them.

But Charlie had to work. It wasn’t optional. And he certainly didn’t want to work in the factory he’d been assigned to. Not for even a year, and certainly not for 30 years. He just couldn’t bear the idea of it. Why had he chosen to be born male? All children were told us – told that they had made a “soul contract” before being born as to who they be. This may or may not have been true, but it was a good story to keep the citizens in line. This way, they thought of their lot in life not as something done to them, but somehow their own fault.

Charlie was a renegade as far as the Acthun way went. He refused his assignment, rebelled against the convention that he chose his unfulfilling and frankly unsuitable career, and even his gender. So he sweet-talked a former classmate and stowed away inside the first transport ship to Earth. The Acthuns regularly made trips to and from Earth to restock and refresh from the vast breeding supply of cows there, who they used as mates. Their own gene pool had gotten shallow over the decades-long war/famine on their planet and they needed new blood. After enough survey teams had tested Earth’s nearest analog to their biology and found it acceptable, the ships began removing cows to use as broodmares. They never took bulls after that first unfortunate incident. It was decided that Acthun males could mate with the cows, but the females would only mate with other Acthuns. The cows were shipped back after five seasons, out of concern some do-gooder would start expecting them to be granted citizenship. Imagine that! A cow, a full citizen! It had been brought to the planet as a servant, a slave, even.  It could not be thought of as even remotely equal to them. That would upset the entire social system.

Charlie had no plans of being an Earth citizen. He was on the planet illegally, a true alien. So he kept a low profile – as low as possible, looking how he looks – and tried to make enough money to support his family and hopefully enough more to pay to get a second (and hopefully better) career assigned to him when he returned.

Inca(r)nation

The Inca disappeared

because a) they went back home to the stars

or b) adequately proved to the ET’s

they were savvy enough.

Their pyramids are teleportation devices,

time / space machines,

like Stonehenge.

They are sited on/ in/ over a vortex,

and are precisely mathematical.

They “sing” the right frequency

to open and close doors in time.

They will return.



It wasn’t transportation.

They simply went from then to now.

Trouble is, I can’t tell you if then

was in the past or future.

Such details didn’t matter to them.

All time was fluid, not fixed, to them.

Time for them was like

a huge blanket thrown over a couch

not spread out even-like.

The bits of it touched other bits

or maybe it was also like an afghan

– made of one long string, knotted together.

It was one,

but it wasn’t stuck

with just that dimension.

The cuckoo

They studied the population carefully. Select only the isolated ones, the weak ones as hosts. Select the ones who have low self-esteem, who feel grateful for any attention, even if it was from an “other”, an alien, an outsider. Humans need attention from others like flowers need rain. Not enough and they fail to thrive.
They studied the native large wild cats too, saw how they would select the weakest of the herd, separate it from the pack. This was who they would use – not the strongest. No, that was dangerous. It was too much risk, too much effort. Playing this invasion on the quiet was the best course, they realized – no need to show your hand. You might get shown the door, and in this case it meant not just homeless but permanently without a planet.
This was a one-way trip for many of the Xohni, and they knew it from the beginning. Outnumbered and running low on resources, they left their besieged planet decades ago. The invaders let some go voluntarily into the transport ships, packed together like sardines, feet to head, barely room enough to scratch an itch. Some were given up by their own kinsman – the misfits, the outlaws, the ne’er-do-wells, to be sold at auction like so much cattle. No matter however they ended up on Earth – voluntarily or not, they had to adapt to their greatly reduced circumstances. They had to breed, and fast. They barely had enough resources to shelter and feed themselves, however. There was no room on the ships to bring more than the basics for even those who went willingly. Those who were given up by their kinsman had less than that.
There was no time to set up homes with nurseries, no time to raise their offspring. If they’d taken the time, they wouldn’t stand a chance of recovering their home world. Many held out hope that they could return, somehow, some when, and rebuild their smoking husks of cities, razed to the ground by the faceless invaders. They needed to breed, to create troops from their own flesh, to be able to do this.
So the men found the softhearted ones, the quiet ones. The ones who were a little or a lot overweight. The poor ones, the less than clever ones. The host wasn’t important. Their DNA would not contribute in the slightest to this process. They were unknowingly broodmares, surrogates only. They would carry a child in their bodies but it would not be theirs. The alien men would mate with one of their own women before this event, and like the seahorse, would carry the fertilized eggs within himself. Up to a year could go by before they had to find a cow, as they termed the unsuspecting human women. Meanwhile, the embryo waited, not dividing, not growing, in their father’s womb sacs.
Once a cow had been located, it was quick work to charm her just enough to take her to bed and deposit his precious cargo inside her. Pregnancy was guaranteed. It didn’t matter if she was ovulating or not, on the pill or not. Her fertility was not in question because her eggs never came into the equation. What was deposited in her womb was already fertilized, already alive, and already stronger than anything she might have provided. These alien offspring were engineered to grow faster and larger than any human baby ever did. They were more aggressive, louder, more belligerent too. There was no debate that they were different, for sure. Everyone knew it, but none were willing to talk about it openly.
Teachers and pediatricians chalked the differences up to the fact that they were raised by single mothers, because they all were. The alien fathers never stayed around to raise their children. That would slow them down, take up too much time, and require resources they didn’t have. They left town the same day they talked their hapless targets into going to bed with them. Once fertilization was over, they had no need of them. It was time to find another cow. The fathers only came back at the time of the child’s maturity.
In this way, it was all too easy to double their population just a few years after landfall. Sure, the offspring were young, but they were strong. Native Xohni customarily went into the army at age 12. It was their coming-of-age ritual. While some cultures would have a party or give the child a new name to mark the crossing of maturity’s threshold, the Xohni went to the battlefield, and did so joyfully. Violence was as much a part of them as hair or eye color. It wasn’t a choice. Those who tried to suppress their violence by attempting to continue their education or by choosing to marry a human were shamed by their family and peers.
The fathers came back years later to claim their children. The cows were grateful for any attention, even though it wasn’t positive. They gave the boys guns to play with, and gave the girls baby-dolls. They knew that whatever you give a child as a toy becomes who they are. They needed the boys to be soldiers and the girls to continue providing eggs. This was the only way there was any hope for the reconquest of their world.
But it took too long. The invaders were too good at their job. The world was decimated by the invaders – cities were destroyed, land was salted. The Xohni continued anyway. Their aberration became normal on Earth by sheer volume alone, and they blended in as well as they could. Why would they care that their children were so different from those of the natives? They were strange looking, violent, and unable (or unwilling) to speak the local language properly. They had to rethink their plan. Perhaps in a matter of years they might alter the fabric of society enough to make Earth their permanent home instead of just a temporary base. Perhaps by then their deficits would be seen as credits in a society that had come to praise the lowest common denominator in a perverse effort to shrug off elitism.

Alien Walkers (short story)

All the ones who had survived had learned to incarnate. There was no other way to relay the information back – the signal wouldn’t cross the membrane barrier. It was sink or swim as best you could. It was a sure way to weed out the ones who couldn’t adapt quickly.
It was an ugly way to go for those who couldn’t shift, who wouldn’t, who didn’t know how or didn’t think to. Their thin gray bodies desiccated in the Terran environment, reducing them to a wrinkled mass of flexible chiton in a matter of hours. Or the crushing gravity pulled Them down, rendering Them unable to move, unable to find enough nutrients to support Their hummingbird-like metabolism. Their silica-based skeletal structure was far too flimsy for this planet, so much larger than Their own, with so much more gravity. Or Their eyes, large and round like ostrich eggs, black as a waterless well, were quickly blinded by the intense rays of a sun three times larger than Their own. The natives who saw one of Them as They truly appeared were either seeing one who’d just arrived or as a thought hologram.
They’d had some preliminary forays the safest way possible (for Them) over the years using that technology. Why bother with a true hologram which required a transmitter to be physically present, when the same information could be simply beamed directly into the brains of the intended audience? Getting the signal right had taken quite some time. Too many otherwise sane people had been reduced to drooling idiots after they saw one of Them this way. They all had to be institutionalized, blathering on about aliens contacting them. These were the ones who had money, or relatives with money, of course. The rest shuffled off the chains of modern life and took to living in shacks they made out of cardboard and adopting rats as pets. Fortunately, they didn’t know the difference. To them, the rats looked like the pets they had abandoned when they went walkabout.
Some of the early visitors to Earth chose to “walk” into those unfortunates after the fact. They were like abandoned cars – all shell and no spark. The visitors were taking advantage of their loss. Best not to leave a good vessel to waste, they thought. Sure, the person was alive, after a fashion, but it was no life worth living. There was no return trip from the place their mind had gone. Back where the visitors came from it was considered a mercy to not let a friend or family member continue on with such an empty existence. There, early termination was normal. Perhaps the soul / body match was off. Perhaps it was the wrong timeline to incarnate in. Better to nip it in the bud before it grew into an ugly weed with thorns and rotting fruit. There just wasn’t space, money, or time for that kind of indulgence in their homeworld.
As a result, there was no homelessness, no poverty, no addictions of any kind where They came from. There was no pandering, no excuses, and certainly no jails. One example of self-or-other harm was enough. There was never a second. If the citizen didn’t realize their misalignment, others close to them did and took care of matters for them. There were EVAC tubes in every town hall for just such occasions. The soul was released, the body pulverized and scattered, returning the elements to the soil from whence they came. Prayers were said, rituals performed. Within a month and a half the soul had found another body to incarnate in to try again. During that time between incarnations the souls attended a sort of rehabilitation school. This school had no breaks because they didn’t have to sleep, eat, or exercise to keep their incarnate forms from falling apart.
Everyone on the planet had been through this process countless times. It was what you did. Rather than suffer through an ill-fitting soul / body match for the duration of the life expectancy of the body, just try again.
After the first few visitors traveled bodily to Earth and had such difficult transitions, They learned. The ones who survived took the closest body They could, be it eagle, skunk, or human. It didn’t matter as long as it was mobile. A few had “walked” into cacti or trees and found they were stuck. Not only could They not locate others (either of Their kind or indigenous), but They also couldn’t leave Their new vessels like They were used to. There were no EVAC units here, and once They tapped into the collective unconsciousness of Their hosts, They learned it wouldn’t ever be likely to be an option here. Locals preferred to tough it out or make the best of a bad situation. They held on for the sake of holding on, not realizing that path was full of unnecessary suffering.
The visitors soon learned the religious stories of the objects of Their study. Several had discussed reincarnation. One even had as a central figure a man who had reincarnated in an unbelievably fast three days – but he had said that he was the heir of the sovereign deity of that region. They guessed that perhaps he was more advanced due to his lineage and didn’t need as much rehabilitation as Their souls did. It had long been suspected that certain bloodlines ran more true, but on Their planet, admission to these families was by merit, not by luck like all the rest.
They developed star travel because Their planet had started to get full. There weren’t enough new bodies being created to fill the need for souls to inhabit. As a collective, the citizens had finally realized the need to maintain green space. For a long time They had treated undeveloped land as “scrub”, not understanding that the plants cooled the planet and made it possible for them to breathe. Once they understood, they intentionally chose to limit how many citizens could reside in an area and also required everyone to plant a garden to produce their own food.
Once they all realized the dire dilemma that was facing them, all citizens chose to limit themselves to only one offspring per couple. Singles who were already celibate remained so, and partners negotiated who was going to be sterilized if they’d already reached their quota. It was simple, really, and it made sense. Rather, it made sense until there was no place for the spirits to return to.
Some started beaming directly to earth to incarnate. Very few souls wanted to stay in the null-space that was the existence after being dis-incarnated. They learned from their research that the Catholic Church referred to that space as purgatory. It wasn’t quite enough of a word to describe what it was like for Them, but it was close. It wasn’t “nirvana” as the Buddhists called the next level on, the one where you had learned all you wanted to learn and became one with the All That Is. Nor was it as milquetoast as “limbo”. It was a bit like reform school, or rehab, or where you took your car to get the dents hammered out after an accident. It wasn’t a place where you wanted to stay for long.
There were difficulties with the first downloads, as would be expected. The natives had to invent new words to express what was going on. The Germans came up with “doppelgänger”, and before that the Vikings used “berserker” when adults were taken over. In England the word “changeling” was used to indicate a child who had been swapped. Perhaps “possessed” was the right word in all these cases, as the soul of the original occupant of the body remained but was suppressed. It was as if They were carjackers, who instead of stealing the car while it was parked outside of Walmart, took it over at a stoplight and threw the driver in the trunk. It wasn’t ideal, and many of Them hesitated to do it, but They overcame Their reticence once They saw how backwards and unevolved the earthlings were. It was exactly the same as how the Europeans could justify the murder and eviction of the Native Americans. They were seen as less than animals, or not even as animate beings. It is easy to oppress others when you don’t think of them as people, or even alive. They thought they were doing the inhabitants of favor.
But then there were individuals on Earth who were able to coexist with the visitors, those whose spirits were strong enough due to their own unique soul-work they had (fortuitously) done before the unexpected occupation of the “walk-ins”, or those who were naturally blessed with flexible minds. Rigidity of thought was a certain predictor of the occupation not going well for the original soul. Trying to maintain a sense of normalcy while suddenly living in a vastly more-dimensional world was tenuous at best for those who had never contemplated anything more involved than who to vote for on American Idol.
In times past these people who adapted to an extra presence and sensory experience would have been called seers or prophets, but in a world suspicious of anything even seeming to refer to religion, they chose to remain quiet about it. Some would read the works of mystics from the past to develop words for their own understanding of what was happening to them. Some read science fiction for the same purpose, while some wrote it. It was an odd awareness, this other knowing, this extra way of feeling and seeing before and between and beyond. It was precognition, to be sure, but it was so much more. It was like hearing sound after a lifetime of deafness. It was like seeing a rainbow after being born colorblind. It was everything all at once and with no warning.
Most native souls retreated during the onslaught of sensation that was the norm for the visitors, the aliens, the occupiers, making it easy for them to control the body-vessel. Enough random access memory remained after the upgrade for the visitor to integrate almost seamlessly. Passwords were remembered, along with names of pets and friends and where their house was located. The more adept “walkers” made it seem like nothing had changed it all. The moment of the possession had seemed as unremarkable as the lights flickering when a storm was in the area. Out for a second while the transfer overlay happened, and then back to business as usual.
It was discovered that those unwilling body donors who were able to not only endure but thrive during the overlay experience either had a lot of gold in them or on them. In some cases they had gold rings on their fingers or crowns on their teeth. Some naturally had gold in their bodies, the same as most people had copper or zinc. But gold, unlike those metals, wasn’t something you’d find in a multivitamin. Some had unknowingly obtained it by walking barefoot in the forest, while others had consumed an airplane bottle of Goldschlager schnapps on a dare in college. However the reason, the gold worked as a conductor and a buffer, retaining the best of both personalities and enabling both to work peaceably together.

Pod people

pose

 

Nell was having none of it. Not anymore. Her husband simply refused to even try to breathe air. The doctor said he could, that his lungs could adapt to this environment, but he disagreed. Trouble was, he’d never know unless he tried.

Elowyn had read about other Marenians who had converted to air breathing. He’d never met one, of course. How could he? There were only three who lived in this state, and the closest was two hours away by plane. No airline would let him on a plane with his argon suit, that was a given. Their fears were unproven, but policy was policy.

They’d met three years ago at the landing site. She was a reporter, alerted by the scanner in the office that something was coming from the skies again. That scanner was worth its cost from all the leads it provided. Quick as a wink she was downstairs and in her car, trying to not drive off the road as she followed the plumes of green clouds stretching like a tightrope from the eastern sky to some nearby cornfield – Mr. O’Reilly’s, most likely. He had the biggest one, so it stood to reason. She turned down Ellis Way and got there before the locals did. Farmers listened to the scanner same as reporters did, and for much the same reason. It was the best way to know what was going on that might be of interest. Something like this would pull them out of their barns for sure.

Just think of it! Aliens! Here! In Mill City!

Nell had guessed the pod’s trajectory right and reached the small crater it created just after the police had gotten there. The ground was still steaming next to the blue (metal?) craft. She noticed that there was a bright iridescent sheen across the pod’s surface, reflecting the late afternoon summer sun, as well as a distinctive sharp smell much like ammonia, but she couldn’t quite place it.

They didn’t know at the time but it turned out that the color and the smell were both hallmarks of the Marenians. They both came about because their ships were alive, growing out of the same stuff as the people. This way they could self-repair. It saved a lot of money and time that way. It worked perfectly as long as they stayed in the Marenian solar system because the elements were more or less the same throughout.

Earth, however, was another matter entirely. The stresses of the previous crashes had resulted in every pod going into automatic repair mode, sending wispy tendrils into the soil to gather the raw materials needed to boil up replacement parts in the integral kitchen/lab. Three minutes after the tendrils went down, they came back up, spit out what dirt they’d sampled, and retracted back into the beetle-like shell, refusing to budge. The self-preservation instinct was the strongest one, so the pods calmly explained in their proto-language to the pilot inside them that the soil was not compatible with their electrochemical makeup, so repairs would not be forthcoming. As trained, each pod then sent out a trans-space summons for another pod to make the trek to bring dirt from home so repairs could proceed.

The only problem was that these supply pods came and they too became stranded. They’d underestimated the amount of dirt needed for the repairs.  The pods were small, with barely enough room for the pilot.  Even if they were able to navigate without a pilot there still wouldn’t have been enough room for dirt to repair both ships.

No matter – flying without a pilot wasn’t an option. Each pod was raised with its pilot from the moment s/he was formerly admitted to the astro-nav program. Saying that they were synchronized wasn’t the half of it. Cells were harvested from under the tongue of the pilot and cultured over three weeks, growing into a ship that learned as the pilot learned. This was no simple cloning. The two beings were separate in body only. All past, present, and future were shared.

This created a dilemma when the pods, and thus the pilots, began to be stranded. Without hope of repair, the pods chose to self-terminate, opting for a quick death over a slow lingering one. The pilots had to be tranquilized before the pods could self-euthanize. Otherwise it would have been too painful for them to endure. Some later, once they’d learned the local language, said it was like amputation of half your limbs and your brain.  Many were encouraged to adopt dogs afterwards as the closest Earth option to the deep connection that they had shared with the ships.

Nell had worked closely with Elowyn after the crash, helping him to adjust to Earth living.  There was no going back to Marenia, so he had to learn a whole different culture. This was made easier because of his astro-nav training, but it was still understandably difficult.

She’d not planned on adopting a stray, but the Mayor assured her that she was the most qualified person in the city for the job.  Simply being a reporter, curious about new things, made her ideal, he said.  Put that way, how could she refuse? It was a high honor to be deemed worthy of helping a stranded Marenian.  You were serving as an ambassador for the whole planet, after all.  The future of the relationship between the two solar systems would be created from these one-on-one relationships.

It was about a year later that they both realized that they were quite compatible together and decided to formalize their pairing.  Fortunately for them, other human-Marenian pairs had formed before they had even met, and laws had been changed to allow for interspecies marriage.  There was only one difference with these marriages and all others – one member of the union had to be sterilized.   Doctors weren’t comfortable with what could happen if a child was created.

There was no way a child could have been created in the case of Nell and Elowyn. He was still hermetically sealed inside his argon suit.  He had to have it to breathe on Earth, he insisted.  The material in the suit was fortunately impervious to decay, or he would have a more difficult time of it.

Nell was quietly upset when she learned this, hoping that he’d eventually be forced to adapt to Earth ways.  She loved him, of course, but she thought that things would be better for both of them if he didn’t wear that darned suit.  It made going out to visit friends awkward.  Plus, the smell took some getting used to.  The ammonia-like smell was a byproduct of the impervious material.  It was unnoticeable on Marenia, but on Earth it alerted others that there was a foreigner around even before they saw him.  It made some people not want to deal with Marenians at all, saying that they smelled like used gym socks.

Nell and Elowyn mostly kept to themselves at home when she wasn’t working.  He didn’t have to work – none of the stranded pilots did.  They didn’t need food, and they weren’t interested in owning anything.  If they couldn’t carry it, they didn’t need it – this philosophy was part and parcel of being a Marenian.  It was how they had finally adapted to a planet with too many people and not enough land.  They didn’t even need to live in homes anymore, having selectively bred themselves over twenty-three generations to be unaffected by temperature changes or ultraviolet rays.  Some did live in homes on Marenia out of habit or convenience, and most pilots on Earth did as well, but it wasn’t uncommon to see one hanging out with homeless people under overpasses or near street corners. They were comfortable wherever they happened to be.

The Marenians got along with the homeless population uncommonly well.  They had in common their philosophy of “less is more”, albeit perhaps unwillingly for some of the homeless.  Soon the Marenians and homeless had developed a spiritual system – not a religion – about this, encouraging others to get rid of their addiction to things. They explained that there was a reason that the Earth language used the word “possession” to refer to things as well as being taken over by demons.

It had to be a spiritual system because a religion would require stuff – books or buildings, for instance, and this was totally opposed to their beliefs.  Of course, many years later, after the founders had died and no more new Marenians came to Earth, their simple way was converted like all other spiritual paths had been and there were not only cathedrals to “less is more” but also gift shops with plastic trinkets made in China.

The erasure

They finally came. After months of broadcasts on all known media (radio, television, Internet, newspaper, shortwave, telegraph, TTY, dolphins, psychics) saying it was coming, that they were coming, it had finally happened.

Nobody knew who was sending the broadcasts, or where they were from. Agencies and detectives and amateur sleuths all over the world tried to answer those questions, to no avail. Séances were held. Runes were consulted. Wires were tapped. Still the messages came, and still no one knew the source or the author. Television anchors were told to say nothing that might frighten the public more than they already were. Talk show hosts were, as usual, under no authority or ethical standard, so they said whatever they felt, regardless of truth or concern for how their prattlings would harm.

The beings, or spirits, or aliens, or whatever they were had tried to communicate with our earth for far longer than people realized. They had subtly influenced moods and desires since before 2000, like a silent alarm, like an odorless poison. They were the reason for the Y2K panic. They were the reason preppers stocked up on ammunition and canned ham. They were the reason people began to mis-trust the authorities and began to take matters into their own hands. Urban farms, homeschooling, anti-vaccine? These were their doing. Layer by layer they had painted a picture of paranoia in our brains to divide us, keep us off balance.

Everyone was affected to some degree. It was only those who didn’t consume mass media that maintained some semblance of control over their actions. All those who watched TV or movies or listened to the radio got multiple doses of the message, and it was cumulative, just like any other poison. A single bee sting is annoying, but not fatal. A thousand stings is another matter.

When they finally came it was almost a relief.

It was a cool day in August, one of those days that was not too hot or humid with a few clouds in the azure sky. The morning had gone peacefully for everyone for a change. The disturbing dreams have finally stopped. Even the news reports were calm for a change, with the latest plastic surgery of one celebrity being the lead instead of the usual threats of war from petty tyrants trying to get the world to notice them. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day, until the skies scissored open with the dimension-melting sight/sound/smell of their ships at 11:11 AM.

People started to see sounds and hear colors.
Time ran backwards and sideways and stopped.
Everything suddenly made sense
but there were no words
anymore to explain it.

And then there was nothing.

The silence was thicker than the darkest night, a crushing subterranean weight, more alienating than being trapped in the Marianas Trench in a powerless submarine.

Then, just as suddenly, there was only now. The past wasn’t even a memory. It was just a word. All mistakes, all forgotten grocery lists, all insults, all arguments, gone in a blink of the eye. Gone too were first kisses. baby’s first laugh, that perfect day in October when the sky is the blue of watery dreams and crisp like a Gala apple.

All of it.
Gone.

Somehow they knew, whoever they were. They knew that what was holding us back was our near-pathological need to catalog the past into neat (and not so neat) piles, holding onto memories and snapshots and train tickets and receipts for ice skates and ice cream. Somehow they knew that our need to separate those piles into “good” and “bad” was our secret un-doing, our un-humaning, our un-being. Somehow they knew that our “bad” pile held us down, became a pattern for our future, made us think we would always be cheated, be robbed, be abandoned. Somehow too, they knew that our “good” pile equally enslaved us, making us feel that we could never feel that exhilarated or proud or delighted ever again.

Our collective and individual past being erased was as great a blessing to us as a tornado or a house fire. It forced us to stop holding onto the dried husks of what it means to be truly alive. For too long we thought that the artificial joy of our memories was what made us human.

Overnight, the scrapbooking industry was rendered irrelevant. No one could even imagine why they had spent so much of their lives (and money) gluing memorabilia into organized books, accented with metallic rickrack and die-cut stickers. No one took photographs either, choosing to see their lives through their own eyes rather than through a viewfinder.

Why save the past anymore?
It was meaningless.
Only the present moment,
a moment eternally composed
of beginnings,
was valid.
In that moment
anything
could happen.

Edward and the turtle

2

Edward had always been an unusual child. His teachers expected him to become an unusual adult too. His parents? Well, that was another matter entirely.

They never said exactly how Edward came to them, or even how he came to be. Bea and Charles, Edward’s parents as far as the world was aware, left town for a year a while back. When they returned, they had Edward with them. He was just over a month old they said, but some who looked in his eyes knew, just knew deep down in their bones that this child was far older in all the ways that counted. “He’s an old soul” they said, not knowing how true those words were.

Of course, not everyone could see the whirling abyss of time in his eyes. It was like looking into a dark disused quarry filled with rain water. You couldn’t see the bottom, and to some that was so frightening that their minds simply refused to look, to even get near. Those hidden depths spoke of secrets, of danger, of loss.

For some, Edward himself was invisible simply because of the dangerous unanswered questions that lurked like unwelcome promises behind his eyes. Their minds couldn’t accept their challenge, so they simply refused to acknowledge Edward’s presence, his very being. What Edward was could not be to them, so for them he was not.

Bea and Charles could see him better than anyone else, and they were grateful. They’d prayed for such a child, a “gift” as they called him, privately, fervently. The home they were living in now was a gift too, provided upon the introduction of Edward to his grandfather. For years they had scraped by, living with friends, or in trailers, or even in the library during the day and their battered Range Rover at night. The arrival of Edward had turned their lives around for the better.

A grandchild was all Bea’s father wanted from her. He promised her the house, paid off, furnished, utilities, the lot, on the day she and Charles married provided that they gave him a grandchild in due time. He made sure to explain it wasn’t just any house on the table, not one of her choosing. It was to be the house by the lake on the family estate. Her sister Eloise already had the woods house, and brother Tom had been gifted the one by the cold gray boulders. Only the big house remained, and it was occupied solely by Edward’s grandfather, known simply as “The Grandfather”, made so by the births of all his children’s children, now gathered like chicks on the family land.

Edward would have no siblings. The cost was simply too high. No money had changed hands for his conception. Money was just paper after all, just the promises of dead trees. Those who had brought Edward into the world needed something more solid than that.

Bea and Charles had been desperate to have a child, and the cost was nothing in comparison to the debt they were in. Who counts the expense when you stand to gain everything? It was like floating a check right before payday – something they knew very well.

They still didn’t understand what was to be expected of them for this “gift”, even though they’d signed a contract. There were fertility tests the doctors did beforehand, to make sure the couple didn’t have to pay such a price, could conceive on their own, but it was to no avail. Bea suspected some of her cells were taken then, for some other cause, but she didn’t dare to think about it for too long. All that mattered was that she had her child now. What happened in the future would just have to wait until then to be worried about.

Edward was always cold. Outside, on a warm July afternoon, he always wore a jacket or coat. Charles got his tailor to make a blazer for him out of the thickest tweed he could find. The colors looked like the bracken and gorse that surrounded his Uncle Tom’s house. When he was inside, a fire was always going in whatever room he was in.
At first, he insisted in his own way that all the fireplaces would be working all over the house, but Bea and Charles soon realized his subtle influence over them and set some boundaries. Even as a baby he was able to make people do his will. Even without speaking he could turn them, bend them. His parents didn’t realize he was influencing their minds until the fires.

Edward had never seen a fire until he was a year old. Before that his parents bundled him up in sweaters and blankets to stop his shivering. They simply hadn’t gotten around to having the chimneys inspected in that old stone house, so they had no fire out of fear. The moment they were able to light one, Edward wouldn’t leave the room, delighted with his newfound unencumbered warmth. When Charles tried to remove him from the room at supper time, Edward howled and kicked Charles in the shins. Not wanting to get into a fight with his son, Charles desisted and instead brought up a tray. They all ate supper together that evening, sitting by the fire, seated on the antique Persian carpet, the arabesques and swirling flowers in the design dancing all the more by the flickering firelight. Bea thought it was charming, like a picnic.

The charm wore off after week when Edward still refused to leave the fireside. They drew him out only after they lit fires in all the other rooms. Only then would he venture from his toasty lair. After a few months though, Bea and Charles had grown tired of the constant work involved in finding seasoned wood in town and then chopping it to size. Grandfather would not allow them to cut down trees on his land, not for Edward, not for anyone. They explained to Edward that it had to be one fire from now on, in only one room, and he could wear sweaters like before if he needed to wander anywhere else in the house. He sulked for a month in that room, unwilling to get cold.

They’d not wanted all that heat, especially going from spring into summer, but Edward did, so he simply placed his thoughts over theirs, like how a voodoun priest exerts his will over a zombie. He didn’t realize they would break free of his influence, his control of their actions, and certainly not so soon. For the longest time they thought they too were cold and needed the heat just like he did. It was only when Charles passed out from heat exhaustion one Tuesday that they started to question their actions, realizing that they didn’t want the house to be at 92°.

From that point on they questioned everything they thought. They wondered what passed through their minds was their thought, or Edward’s. He tested them to see how far his influence went. He tried simple things, like food cravings. For one week they craved bananas and they ate them like they were going out of style. A different week it was strawberries. That was a mistake, Edward soon learned, because Bea was allergic, had been since she was a child. She knew she wasn’t craving them, that it had to be Edward’s doing.

He had to figure out another way to get his needs met. He finally, reluctantly, decided to let them teach him their language. That dry chittering sound grated on his ears. It was so unlike the warm liquid sounds he knew as his native tongue. His mouth ached with the effort of shaping the sounds for them, but it was the only way.

When he was three they took him to get a pet. Bea decided he needed a companion. A dog was ruled out straight off the bat – the warmth Edward needed would make it lethargic at best, dead at worst. A tortoise, a Galapagos tortoise to be precise, was decided after careful and discreet inquiries with the local librarian. She explained how they are cold-blooded so they need warmth, and how they live for many years. This added quality helped to tip the scales.

The elders who had helped them hinted that their true age was far beyond their appearance. Their kind were old at birth, having already lived half a human lifetime in a middle dimension, one where they were spirit only. This gave them certain advantages. They could learn quite a bit without the bother of a body. No colds to catch, no growing pains, no accidents, no trips to the doctor or the emergency room or the morgue. They even got to skip all that awkwardness of puberty while they were learning. Only when they had gathered about 50 of our years worth of knowledge did they bother to incarnate, and only then into a bespoke body, tailored to their temperament and needs. Certainly then there were the usual risks of being embodied, but by then they knew how to navigate safely through those obstacles.

Bea and Charles only suspected at the truth behind their benefactors, the ones who had given them Edward. The Grandfather would never know. For him, Edward was of his flesh and blood and that was all he needed (or wanted) to know. No matter that Edward was decades smarter than any of his other grandchildren. If he’d known the truth about this cuckoo child, he’d throw him and his parents out and never speak their names again.

Edward was their child in deed if not in act. He never grew in Bea’s womb, but he did share her DNA, as well as Charles’s. The elders didn’t mention there was a bit more to the mix than just the two, however.

It was kind of like fruit juice. How much actual juice was necessary for it to still be juice? Perhaps there are vitamins and minerals added to improve the quality. Perhaps other things to make it last longer. Sure, at the end it still looked and tasted like juice, but really only 50% of it was straight from the vine. It was kind of like that with Edward and his parents, but in their case it was more like 5% than 50%. They’d never be the wiser. Edward was theirs, and that was all they cared about. And of course, they were parents in the way that mattered most – they loved him, took care of him, and make sure he was happy and wanted for nothing.

Well, they didn’t give him everything. That would spoil him. And after all, they still had to make sure he wasn’t using the old mind push on them.