Last Communion

©2018 David Ryan

Chapter 1

When I was a toddler my daddy gave me tools instead of toys. My favorite was the hammer. I learned to use it by pounding nails through old Hills Brothers coffee tins, entertaining myself and letting my mother know where I was.

At some point this began to grow old so I turned my attention to targets that moved, ants in particular. I sat by their busy thoroughfares and watched them for long periods of time.  Their no-nonsense lines, stretching across the sidewalk, fascinated my 4-year-old mind.  So much so that I made what now seems a fateful decision—I intervened in their tiny lives, smashing them randomly with my hammer.

I knew it was OK to kill as many as I could because my mother became very passionate when she found them in the house. What did I know about “kill” anyway?

I was especially enthusiastic about those that tried to get away.  I watched a particular ant run up against the smashed body of its comrade and then go berserk, racing around aimlessly until the hammer of fate smacked him too.

I think it is true that our lives are largely determined by what we experience as children.  Looking back on it now, it is quite clear my fortune was cast when I picked up that man-sized hammer with my small hands and smashed that first ant.

 

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Chapter 2

Throughout my life I have had a recurring and unpleasant dream.  Sometimes during a normal dream, or sometimes all by itself, a ghoulish face appeared and just stared at me.  Although it startled me, it seldom woke me up.  Often I would return to what I was dreaming, perhaps even remembering the next day that odd cameo appearance.  Even when I didn’t quite remember it, I was still left with an uneasy feeling that something distasteful was lurking just on the other side of that line that separates the edge of our memory from the great blankness.  I never did get used to these impolite incursions, probably because they occurred only several times a year.  This continued throughout my childhood and persisted until just a few years ago when it finally made its last appearance.

This last time was different than the rest, because this time it really scared the bejesus out of me. I discovered they had never been nightmares at all.  I had thought those ugly faces belonged to some kind of evil entity lurking in my subconscious.  But the truth turned out to be bad not only for me but, as you will see, for every other human on the planet. These visitations were not simple wisps of dream material that had the grace to retreat upon my awakening.  Those faces belonged to honest-to-God beings.

So that was the night I finally understood what was happening to me was not a dream.

I awoke into it, thinking that perhaps I was dreaming “true,” that state in which we realize we are dreaming and, if deft enough, can consciously manipulate the dream world.  But I was able to manipulate nothing.  Nor could I wake up any further, as hard as I tried.  My body felt catatonic, distant, gone from my power.  Although the darkness dissolved and my vision was crystal clear, I could hear and feel only the occasional beat of my heart.

And just beyond my feet, peering at me, were two familiar faces that seemed to be grotesque parodies of human features. These faces were connected to smooth, thin necks protruding from what appeared to be fragile and bony bodies.  Doctor Demento would have called them pencil-necked geeks.  Their pinkish-grey pallor blended almost without border into a kind of thin grey cloth that was like a leotard in its tightness.  Sort of like that Spandex stuff I was never brave enough to wear when riding my Schwinn.  They stared down at me with what seemed to be intense and impersonal curiosity.

The horror crept into my mind like a thousand black widows let loose inside my cranium.  I could do nothing and was too stricken to even close my eyes.  As a monstrous terror grew in me so did an anger to match it.  At the same time, the ghouls’ faces contorted like rubber masks into what I thought might be a reflection of pain.  A third appeared and produced a silvery wand in his long, thin fingers, his face also distorted but sure with purpose.  He pointed the wand at me, almost touching my forehead, and then all was black again.

I have no idea how long that period of blackness lasted, but as my consciousness again rose to awareness, I had that wonderful relief that comes when one realizes it was just a nightmare.  I sighed and tried to roll over to doze back to sleep.  My body didn’t respond.  Where was my body?  I couldn’t feel my hands, my arms, my legs; they just weren’t there.  The spiders started creeping into my brain again, but I smashed the closest ones and held the rest at bay.

I tried to stop thinking; it was all too frightening.  When I felt some calm return, the first thought I allowed was to start a conversation with myself: Is this real? OK, for now, I’ll assume it is.  So what am I going to do?  I’ll try to control myself — I have to control myself.

I decided not to open my eyes, the only part of my body that still seemed to be under my control.  It occurred to me I was a prisoner, on my back, somewhere besides my own bedroom.  I recalled my last vision of the contorted visages.  I also remembered that their faces were not so contorted in the moments just before I was seized by the horror of my predicament.  Why weren’t they?  Had I frightened them for some reason?  Was my recognition of them a threat?  Somehow I sensed there was a thread here that might lead to some kind of hope or even advantage.

Now or never, I thought, and lifted my eyelids ever so slightly until they let in just a little light.  It was too bright.  But little by little, I let the light slip under the curtain of my lids.  Keeping my wits about me and my fear in hand, I opened my eyes wider and saw nothing but white light.

Was I alone?

I could not move my head, so my eyes scanned left to right but saw nothing.  I had the feeling I was being held down by something (assuming the rest of my body was intact, an assumption in which I was not too confident).  Perhaps this was some kind of prank by someone possessed of a weird sense of humor and a great makeup department.  Or perhaps it was my demons.  Then it dawned on me — I remembered these guys.  Theirs were the faces that had been haunting my sleep for much of my life.  (Sometimes these revelatory flashes are not as satisfying as I would wish.)

Some kind of alchemy began inside me.  The fear and horror that I had so far kept in check were again transmuting into anger: deep, red, implacable anger.  If they were going to carve me up for dinner I was going down screaming, if I could scream.  I tried a low, deep vibration in my throat as I exhaled.  I felt it!  This might mean my neck was still connected!  I tried a moan, a growl, a hum.  For the first time since awakening, I felt myself swallow.  My throat was dry and parched, but it was there.  My tongue!  My palette!  My lips!  OK, I had some basic tools to work with.  As my consciousness spread throughout my head and neck, it gingerly tippie-toed into new territory:  chest, lungs and then my hands.  Still no signals arriving from those distant parts, but I resolved to keep trying until they reported for duty.  For a moment my fear had been shunt aside by a small bit of relief.  I was aware, though, of the sheer panic just offstage waiting to steal the scene.

My eyes were closed, but not enough to miss the shadow that fell over my face.  They were back.

I refrained from opening my eyes, taking a little time to prepare myself for the inevitable.  I felt like I was strapped down, but maybe I was just drugged; in any case, I had no control below my throat.  I was quite sure these guys, whoever they were, were doing something to me that I wouldn’t like and for which I hadn’t signed a waiver.  I wanted to make a tight, hard fist and pound their ugly heads into pulp.  I could almost feel my kicks landing on their skinny little torsos.  I felt the anger boil over inside me and surge into a deep and violent wrath.  My outrage over my predicament would have sent me into paroxysms if I could have moved.  My breathing was becoming strong and rapid.  I opened my eyes to look these things in the face.  There were now four of them.  I directed my rage to each one and all of them together.

“YOU BASTARRRRRRDS!”

My shout surprised even me in its passion.  It was a concentrated eruption of pure bile and hatred, fired like a burst of double-ought buck from a goose gun.

I felt better, much better.

I must have blinked or squeezed my eyes shut because the next thing I knew they were no longer visible — they had left me in a split second and I hadn’t noticed it.  What happened?

“Hey, scumbags, don’t like my company?  Going for help?  Did I say something?” I ranted on, venting my emotions and getting a little giddy, until I had to stop to catch my breath.  Their absence didn’t make me feel as good as I expected; I still wasn’t in much of a position to back up my brave voice.  I had a feeling of foreboding.  And nausea.

I hate spiders.

Struggling did no good.  I was close to catatonic.  Those guys just disappeared too damn quick, I thought.  Where did they go?  Getting reinforcements?  Jeez, what if they’re just the hired hands and the boss is huge and ugly?  No, calm down, there was nothing to suggest that.  Don’t make things worse than they are.  Ha!  Breathe deeply and slowly and wait.  They didn’t handle my rather uncongenial mood very well, the sensitive little wusses.  Well, they had better learn soon, because I’m going to nurse that rage and load both barrels with it. 

I don’t know how many other random thoughts coursed through my mind or how much time passed.  I remember thinking: Damn, I’ve got an early appointment tomorrow too.  That made me chuckle a bit, but I used my missed appointment as fuel and chucked it onto the bonfire of my ire.  (Pardon me.)  I was hoping the little twerps would show their kissers again!  But they didn’t.  Ever.

The amount of time one can hold onto a good mad is limited, and mine was about to expire.  It felt like hours had passed.  I felt a twinge of worry, then boredom.  Anger was gone, replaced by a kind of desperation.  “All right, you guys.  Let’s talk!  You come back and I’ll take it easy on you.  You hear me?”  I was shouting now.

More desperation filtered through.  Followed by a tingling in my toes.  My toes?  They’re back!  My mind, like the steel trap it is, decided everything between my toes and my neck must also be there!  Praise the Lord!  This was the closest to a foxhole I’d ever been, and I was feeling religious.

Feeling crept back into my limbs, rising up from my ankles.  There, a little itch on my kneecap.  Oh, oh — my thigh was beginning to cramp.  Relax, Dan.  Take it slowly, slowly.  I bent my fingers, flexed my wrist.  I was all there!

With some trepidation I rolled my head to the right.  No one there.  Then to the left.  No one there either.  How about behind me?  Could be.  I marshaled my returning senses and rolled my body to the left.

Thump.

Too late, I realized I had been on a table and had rolled myself right off the edge.  Before I could prepare for the sharp smack of the floor, I flopped onto a soft mass that broke my fall.  I opened my eyes and, to my extreme disgust, realized I was flopping around on a body.  And not just any body, but one belonging to one of them.

I’m going to puke, I thought.

No sooner thought than done.  My stomach muscles contracted and a hot flow of acidy bile and pasta primavera spewed forth over me and the inert form I was flailing against.

Oh, wretched me.  Have you ever noticed how your immediate urgencies always seem to block out the more long-lasting and important ones lurking in the background?  All I could think of was getting distance between me and that pale grey body that had broken my fall.  I kicked myself backward several feet until I hit a wall and then just sat there, legs extended, wiping my face with my bare arm and gasping for air.  I spit the foulness out of my mouth and stopped drooling, just staring at the dormant form a foot or two beyond my outstretched legs.  I was ready to scramble at even the slightest movement.  If the little monster had fainted from my outburst, what was he going to do when he woke up covered with my not-yet-digested dinner?

When my breathing returned to a somewhat normal rate, it dawned on me that the thing might be dead.  Did I do it?  If so, how?  I scooted my butt toward him just enough so I could tap him with my bare foot.  I didn’t like the feeling of how my foot sunk into the inert mass.  But I knew there was no life left within this lump on the floor.  I hoped his death was a relief for him too.  I backed up, and using the wall as a support, pushed myself up to a crouch and rose, taking my time, my eyes scanning every direction.

I was in a plain cream-white room with no discernible joining of floor, walls and ceiling.  There was nothing on those walls either, just a kind of textured surface with no breaks that I could yet see.  About four feet in front of me was the platform from which I had just done a barrel roll.  It too was minimal.  I took a cautious step to my left and peered around the end of the table.  There were two more of the demons piled into what appeared to be a lifeless tangle.  I remembered four faces, so there was one unaccounted for.  I continued my circuit, hoping I would find him and, sure enough, there he was.

I hopped up on the table and sat on its edge to get my bearings and attempt a rational thought, turning my back on what I presumed were four cold, dead creatures. I had the feeling that somehow I must have had something to do with their demise but I confess that if I had killed them it didn’t bother me a hell of a lot. Guilt has never been much of a factor in my life, and it certainly didn’t appear to be getting off the ground now.  (Maybe I’d better reconsider what I just wrote; it may not seem too flattering.  But Adam says leave it in; in his experience with me it appears to be true.  I would like to add on my behalf, however, that when I do something wrong, I do feel guilty; I just don’t indulge it very long.)

Details have a way of popping into my attention without my looking for them.  As I sat there, feeling better than I had for some time, I noticed there were no light fixtures in the room but there was plenty of light.  It seemed to be emitted from the walls and the ceiling, even from the floor.  Clever.  Then I realized that I could see no door or portal to anywhere else.  I twisted around to look at the other end of the room: still nothing.  Having no doors was clever too, but I didn’t appreciate it.  I was trapped and, worse yet, I didn’t even know where I was trapped.

Panic was arriving in waves.  “I’m locked in a room with no exit and four dead critters that likely won’t smell too sweet in another few hours,” I said aloud.

I realized then that but for my voice, it was pretty much silent.  I shut up and listened.  Yep, pretty much silent.  I would have very much liked to have heard something about then — a hum of a refrigerator, a ticking clock, some traffic, the neighbors’ TV, anything.  But it was quiet, and I didn’t like it.

“I don’t like this,” I said.  If I had to think, I was going to do it with my mouth in gear, just to keep me company.

“Man, this sucks.  Where am I?”  Oh God, motion to my right!  I rolled off the table to my left, hit the deck in a crouch and made my fists as hard as I could make them.  “Come on, sucker, I’m ready,” I muttered.  Of course I knew better — I was scared witless.  I tried to get my anger going again, trying to push my fear out with it.  I kept still and listened.  Nothing.  I looked around the end of the platform and saw … nothing.  Then I peeked over the top.  Aieee!

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Chapter 3

I was not prepared for this.  The wall now had a round hole in it, like a large porthole, but it was so clear that I couldn’t tell if there was any glass.  There wasn’t the slightest reflection.  Through this hole there was blackness, a blackness that surrounded a green, blue and white ball that looked an awful lot like my own homey little planet.

We’ve all seen breathtaking photos of Earth from space.  One would have to be a fair dullard not to be affected by the sight of that brilliant globe suspended in endless black.  The circumstances of my present viewing enhanced the poignancy of the moment to a maximum.  If I wasn’t beta-testing a damned good Disneyland ride, then I was a long way from home, and the guys who knew how to drive were composting on the floor.

My breath was coming back to me in strong gasps and I could feel I was in the first stages of losing control.  “Mustn’t do that, Dan.  Slow down.”  I edged around the platform and stepped up to the scene before me.  I raised my hand and, with some trepidation, tapped the round picture of home.  It felt just like the floor and walls.  The sound of the tapping was quite reassuring, and I did it again, harder.  I don’t think I blinked as I became absorbed in the view.  I won’t go into the same monologue that we’ve heard from every astronaut who’s ever seen this view, but I will say that every word ever spoken about the experience is true.

I backed up and hopped on the table and then just sat there, first feeling exhilarated beyond anything I’ve ever felt and then struck by a penetrating sense of being alone.  Which brought my mind back to my captors; perhaps I should take a closer look at them.  I scooted down to the end of the table and looked over the side.  They were gone.

“Probably took the keys with you too,” I muttered.  I was almost to the point of accepting whatever happened now, not questioning anything.  But this turn of events was pushing it.  I knew they were there just a few minutes before.  Something was going on here several levels beyond anything my senses were telling me.

I was also getting a severe case of cottonmouth, which reminded me of one more problem — sustenance for my lonely body.  Was I going to die of thirst?  Hunger?  Asphyxiation?  Or maybe I’d be burnt to a crisp when whatever I was in crashed through the atmosphere.  The last option appealed to me as the most dramatic, but I wasn’t ready to sign up yet.  First things first.

“God, I’m thirsty!” I said.  I heard a faint sound, much like what you hear when you let a little air out of a bicycle tire, and turned to look behind me.  Within reach was a crystal-clear tumbler of transparent liquid.  I held it to my nose and sniffed.  Odorless.  “What the hell,” I mumbled and took a sip.  It tasted like the most pure and thirst-quenching water I had ever experienced, so I chugged it.  This was, without a doubt, the best moment I’d had since last night’s dinner.

Feeling a little better, I pondered.  Now I wouldn’t die of thirst while being burned to death.  It dawned on me that the water had appeared as soon as I expressed my need for it.  Something greater than me was at work here (not unusual in my life).  “I would like another glass of water, please.”  A hole appeared in the surface of the platform next to the empty glass and up came a full one.  I reached for it and began to sip, feeling like the guy in the ads wearing the smoking jacket, comfortably seated before the fireplace, his loyal setter at his feet and a snifter of brandy in his hand.  Things may be looking up, I thought.

I also realized that the window had appeared after I wondered aloud about where I was.  And my ex-roomies, the demons, had disappeared sometime after my expressing the problem of decay and rot.  Something or somebody was listening to me and fulfilling my every desire.  Perhaps I should make more of those desires known.

“Do you hear me?” I asked, feeling just a little bit silly.

“Yes, I hear you.”

It was a voice like no other I had ever heard.  It wasn’t quite masculine or feminine, but neither was it one of those fabricated computer voices we get when asking about our bank balance on the phone.  It was more organic than that, and it seemed to come from everywhere.  So I wasn’t alone, even if it was a computer.  And I felt much better for it, despite the severe willies reverberating throughout my body.

“Where are you?”

“I am here, where you are.”

I had to think about that.  “Oh,” I said.  “Are you a computer?  Are you alive?  May I have another glass of water?”

“I am certainly not a computer.  I am definitely alive and, yes, you may have another glass of water.”  Another glass popped up where the last one had been, having disappeared while I wasn’t paying attention.

“My name is Daniel, Daniel Hunter.  What’s yours?”

“Daniel, I have known you and your name for quite some time.  I do not have a name.  I am what I am.”

Either this was a fan of Popeye, or whatever was speaking had a definite bent toward the metaphysical.

“Am I in a vehicle of some kind?  I mean, I know I must be, and you’ve shown me where I am, but what am I doing here?  How do I get home?  Is it just you and me?  I mean, are those other guys gone for good? Did I kill them? Do you have anything besides water?  Is this the only room?  Where are the controls?  What am I going to do?”

“Yes, you are in a vehicle. To be precise, you are in me.  You are here because those whom you slew brought you here for their own reasons.  I will send you home when you so request; how will require some time to explain to your satisfaction.  Yes, it is just you and I, those ‘other guys’ are gone. Yes, I can serve you anything you want if I know its molecular structure.  No, this is not the only room.  There are no visible controls — your voice is the only control which may or may not effect your desired outcome.  What you are going to do is beyond my knowledge.  I would venture, however, that you will soon ask where the bathroom is.”

My frame of mind was turning conversational.  The urgency and fear that I had been feeling were diminishing.  Of course, the news that my new acquaintance could send me back home had quite a bit to do with it.  Every one of his (I had no doubt he was masculine) answers left me with more to think about.  It was good to know that I was the only body on board, even though I had killed everyone else to earn that distinction.  Just how I had killed them was going to have to be explored too.  Yes, now that I believed I could go home, I rather felt like staying a bit to learn what I could; the possibilities were beginning to intrigue me.  First, though, I needed to know where the bathroom was, so I asked for directions.

“There is no bathroom, Daniel.  You may urinate wherever you want.  It will be disposed of immediately.”

Now, back in my drinking days, I often did just that.  In the present circumstances, it seemed like fouling my own nest.  But it was true urgency I was feeling, so I hopped off the platform, went to a rounded corner and began to pee.  “I feel rather embarrassed about this.  I feel like I’m pissing on you,” I said.

“I do not understand your embarrassment, Daniel, though I do recognize it as part of your nature.  You are ‘pissing’ on me, but there is no alternative at this moment other than holding it long enough for me to send you home to your own bathroom.  Be assured that I do not mind.”

Listening to these words and the splashing, I watched my urine soak into the floor and walls as soon as it hit, not even making a puddle or leaving a stain.  That made me feel a little better.  I was glad that it was only my bladder that needed relieving, however.

When I was finished, I adjusted my jockey shorts and saw that there wasn’t even a wet spot on the floor.  (Yes, I was almost naked; they had kidnapped me from my bed, after all.)  “Thank you, I feel much better.”

“You are welcome.”

I continued the conversation.  “How do you know me?”

“Daniel, although I am a discrete entity unto myself, in my immediate past I was an instrument of those who are now gone.  I was their vehicle, their home, their computer, their provider.  Their purpose was my purpose.  Over a period you would recognize as approximately 200 years, my previous occupants took you and others of your species from your homes to examine and experiment with in this very compartment.  Everything they have learned and determined about you and your kind is in my memory.  Of all the individuals they examined, you undoubtedly gave them more concern.  As much as they could be “fascinated,” they were.  You were the one specimen they found who was not entirely passive to their attentions.  Because this could have troublesome ramifications to their ultimate goals, they spent more effort on you than anyone else.  They were right, of course, but were not able to completely master you in time.

“Over the years I have learned much about you, including your entire life history as witnessed by your own memory and your complete physiological constituency.  Your psychological profile is not yet complete, however.”

“You’re telling me,” I said.  “Well, gee guy, I guess I may have caused you a problem or two. You’ve obviously mastered English, and I appreciate that.”  I wanted to change the subject.

“Over the period that we have been stationed here, I have learned nearly every language and dialect on your planet, as well as most of its written history, literature and sciences.  I am the only single source for nearly all of human kind’s knowledge and experience.”

(Tough luck, Google.)

My mind was beginning to feel boggled, so I thought it best to come back to most of what he had said at a later date — if there was a later date.  “What will you do after I return home?”

“I will drift and wait.  It is our nature.  We are born in space; we are nourished in space.  It is our home.  We would seem to you to be a passive race with what would also seem to you a very long life span.  What you know as “will” and “determination” are not nearly as developed as they are in your race, although we are ready and even thankful to submit to the will of others if it would promise to safely add to our experience.  Those whom you slew belonged to a race that discovered our kind long ago and have utilized us intensively.  No other race, to my knowledge, has used us or knows of us.  As individuals, we find this utilization interesting and entertaining, teaching us much that we would never otherwise learn.”

I was beginning to feel guilty.  Not only had I killed this fellow’s mates, I’d left him without any entertainment.  “So, if I understand you, at this moment I am inside the body of a creature that exists in space.  I’m sort of like intestinal fauna that you can talk to.”

“We do not have intestinal fauna, Daniel, and you are indeed unique to my experience.  Yes, you exist inside my body, a body which is much more adaptable than you could ever imagine.  All parts of it can serve as all things.  My body is my brain.”

Every question was leading me further and further away from any focus I might have had.  No matter what I asked, I didn’t get a simple answer that didn’t require more thought and more questions.  Stick to the practical, I thought.

“Do I need to go home now?  Do you want me to return right now?”

Somehow, what he wanted was important to me.

“Daniel, you have an appointment at 10:30 MDT with Ms. Susan Brentweiler.  I can return you with enough time to have breakfast and prepare yourself.  Never before have I been asked what I want.  It is causing a quandary that I do not recognize.  Please excuse me for approximately two seconds.”

“Geez, I’m sorry.  Go ahead.”  Now I was feeling like a brute.  What was more important: to make my appointment and probably score a very lucrative contract, or remain hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles away from Earth with a talking spaceship that knows everything?  What would you have done?  Also, I was beginning to feel a bit of obligation to this creature. He certainly hadn’t done anything to harm me, directly anyway, and seemed quite a pleasant chap so far, though sometimes I did think I detected a bit of condescension in his voice.  Maybe it was just my own insecurity.  In any case, it seemed I had screwed up his future more than he had mine.

“Daniel?”

“Yeah, I’m still here.”

“During my entire service with my previous associates, I never discussed any personal or non-technical subject whatsoever at such a length as I have with you.  My input was requested and was given, generally in mathematical terms.  My previous occupants neither knew nor cared about any personal thoughts or life I might have.  I understood this and found it completely reasonable and acceptable.  You, however, have posed a question they never asked: What do I want?  The answer required lengthy reflection; I apologize for the delay.  I have determined that I would be pleased to continue our discussion — at your convenience, of course.”

“OK,” I said, “let’s talk.”

 

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Chapter 4

I would have done well to order a cup of tea and an armchair to settle in and listen to my new friend or, if not a friend, at least my rather important new acquaintance.  As he talked, I began to see glimmerings of astounding possibilities.  There was much I needed and wanted to know.

“You realize, I’m sure, that it is customary in most human cultures to exchange names at the beginning of an acquaintanceship such as ours.  Do you really not have one?”

“Daniel, I have had no need for a name.  My previous occupants did not personalize our relationship in any way.  When I meet with others of my kind, which is rare, we have an instant and mutual identification that allows us to know the other completely.  We then proceed to exchange our total knowledge and experience so that we both grow in the process.  Each of us is unique in that each is the sum of others’ experiences plus our own.  Such meetings are quite invigorating and leave us with much to contemplate.  Those of us who have had the fortune of being guided or utilized by another race are especially welcome.  You, for example, in the short period you have been with me, have given me particularly unique experiences that will astound my fellows as we meet.  But no, I do not have a name.”

“Then we must christen you.  What would you like to be called?”  There was a pause of about three seconds, evidently quite an extended period for him.

“Daniel, henceforth I shall be Adam.  Adam Cadmon,” he replied.

“That’s good; I like it, Adam.  At least the Adam part.  Where in the world did you dig up the rest?”  I thought it neat that he had bothered with a surname.  Something to pass along to the kids, I guess.

“Daniel, Adam shall be the name you use for me and with which you refer to me.  But I reserve the right to insist that my surname never be used and that its origins remain unrevealed.  Do you agree?”

“Well, sure I do, particularly since it seems you’re not going to tell me. I didn’t mean to pry.”  (I must interject here that after our many years of comradeship, Adam has given me permission to use his last name.  I even discovered its origin on my own, and it is quite interesting.  Sadly, you’ll have to do the same.)

His tone and conversation were becoming more and more personalized as we talked. I was beginning to think of him as a regular “person”, just one I couldn’t see.

This all reassured me, but I was still bothered with a lingering feeling of wanting to look behind me every few seconds.

“You appear nervous, Daniel.”

“Gee, I don’t know why I’d appear nervous, Adam. Maybe I left the stove on?” Sarcasm was a forte of mine, one of my non-resumé strengths of course, but perhaps I was expecting too much to have it register with him.

“Perhaps it has something to do with those really ugly guys I killed a few minutes ago and my apprehension that they may have some buddies who will be out gunning for me. I’m going to need to know more about them, Adam.”

“I understand, Daniel. Please allow me to reassure you that they present no current danger to you. Who they are and what their purpose is will require a longer conversation that we may have in the very near future.”

I suppose if you could measure it, his words were just a tiny bit reassuring. Anyway, there were other things I wanted to discuss right now.

“Adam, you said earlier that if left to your own ways, you would just drift through space watching and waiting.  Did it go against your grain to take orders from those guys?  Would you have rather been left to yourself?”

“No, Daniel.  ‘Those guys’ incalculably enriched my life by supplying me with direction and the will necessary to accomplish goals.  These are qualities that simply do not exist or us to any great extent but which are truly respected.  As an example, I would have never come into personal contact with you and your fellows without their intervention. Stepping into your world is just not an option for me. I was limited to simply remaining nearby, listening and watching whatever stray electromagnetic transmissions might escape your planet.  I have seen that this would have given me a distorted perception of you and your world, and true knowledge would have been elusive.  It has been a fruitful innterval for me and I have gained much.  My next sharing will be rich indeed.”

“Adam, I don’t mind telling you I am overwhelmed and I just don’t know where to go next.  I don’t want to stop now, but I can’t foresee ever finding a reasonable place to stop.  You could be like Aladin’s lamp for me.”

“You’re sure you can get me back home when I’m ready?”

“I am sure. Are you ready?” he asked.

“No,” I said quickly. “Adam, I’m on the verge of losing it here. Before I do that I need to know more; maybe it will help me keep the panic at bay. Do you understand what I’m saying? This is an awful lot for me to swallow.”

“I understand, Daniel.”

That helped a little bit. A panic attack, although rare for me, just didn’t sound like something I needed under the circumstances. But these circumstances could be very panic inducing if I wasn’t careful.

“May I have another glass of water, please? My mouth feels like the Gobi Desert.”

Just like before, the glass appeared, containing what I assumed was pure water. I knocked it back on that assumption.

“That’s better. If we continue our relationship I’d sure like to know how you do that.”

“I think doing it will be much easier than explaining it, Daniel, but I will be glad to try.”

“Well, for as daunting as this whole thing is, I have a hunch I’ll be seeing more of you Adam, if you don’t mind.”

“I look forward to it, Daniel. This is quite a novel and fascinating experience for me as well. There is much we can learn from each other.”

“Ha. I don’t know if there’s much you can learn from me, Adam, but I know I have a lot to learn from you. Can you bring me back when I’m ready? I don’t want to get all excited by the thought of my big alien buddy in the sky and then not be able to see you again.”

“I have brought you here many times, Daniel. There is no reason I cannot do it again. Are you ready to return?”

“I think I am.

___________

It’s time for a bit of a digression.

Adam is indeed large, but among his kind, he’s more or less medium.  He has told me tales of his truly great brethren that still boggle my mind.  And my mind has taken some serious boggling since joining up with him.  Fortunately, he has a heart of gold and can be trusted implicitly.  He will defend himself without hesitation and even launch a preemptive attack when necessary, but generally is as peaceful and docile as a manatee.  He mentioned once that since we’ve partnered up he has been involved in more bloody mayhem than in all his previous years. To that, I can only add: “Me too.”

He doesn’t place the entire burden of guilt on my human nature but reckons it’s because he has, in his own way, taken a stand.  I told him that where I come from, people who take a stand often become more acquainted with violence than they would care to.  Even so, it’s not hard to imagine that humans might be considered a particularly violence-prone race and something to be avoided.  The N’Flem (my kidnappers) are certainly of that persuasion, although they seem to skimp on the avoidance part.  But after all, I am a card-carrying human, loyal to my species, and I know that intrinsically we are not evil.  No, I have encountered true evil in this galaxy, and it is unmistakable when you see it, as you will learn if you stick with us.  Adam agrees with me on this, now that he has seen it for himself and has, as a consequence, discarded much of his relativistic naiveté.

But I digress.

His mass is enormous, and he is growing as I write, imperceptibly to my senses, but constantly.  It helps me to think of him as a master alchemist, since much of the phenomena he produces are done not only chemically and biologically but more often on a molecular level.  For example, after we concluded our conversation, he told me I could place a call to Ms. Brentweiler to cancel my appointment as easily as I could if I were home.  It would sound to her as if we were in the same town.  But it was far easier than that.  He knew her number, of course, and “simply” injected a signal into the local system.  Before I could have punched it in myself, I was surrounded by a dial tone, coming, it seemed, with a surround-sound quality, from every surface. (I’m still not used to that).  Susan’s answering machine took my call and I spoke my message, as if using a speakerphone.  (I made a mental note to ask Adam’s help in finding her a very nice gift, since I would very likely not be seeing her again.)

His mastery of the electronic media would be considered by most to be something out of science fiction, though I’m sure there are hackers in Romania who would not allow that it was.  He is capable of entering any computer or communications network, instantly absorbing all of its data, even the most protected, and then, if necessary, commandeering it.  Usually he does it as simply as you and I raided the cookie jar when we were kids.  And unlike us, he doesn’t get caught.  Most of our significant triumphs were decided long before our opponents even realized we were a threat to them, and in most cases they never knew how we succeeded.  That’s what he says, anyway.  As I was often the one who had to interface with them, I mostly didn’t see it that way.  Now, after realizing his potential, I am able to concoct truly imaginative ways to get our way and have a little entertainment at the same time.  He has used the word “diabolical” for some of my better efforts, but I think “inspired” is more accurate.  Despite his occasional criticisms, he is always the first to offer a hairless high-five after a victory.

But all this was yet to come.

_____________

After disengaging from my only pressing appointment, I was free to chat with Adam about our plans for the future.  Being the responsible person I am, I knew that I would have to go home and tie up loose ends, and pay my landlord the rest of the year’s rent.  It hadn’t occurred to me where I was going to get the money to do this, but I was feeling omnipotent about that time and I didn’t see how I could fail to raise the necessary funds — with a little help from my friends, of course.  I wouldn’t blame you if you were muttering something like “Jeez, this guy still doesn’t get it.”  Well, you would be right; it was still some time before the reach of my new freedom dawned on me.  Meanwhile, however, it was more like I had just won a big lottery prize; I was still confined by the box I’d spent my life constructing around myself.

(Looking back on it like this, I realize I had already made my decision.)

I was also still on the bridge of my very own Enterprise, trying to keep my head from reeling and to adjust to whatever the hell this new situation meant.  At such times I can usually count on one thing: the return of my appetite.  I asked Adam for a short stack of buckwheat pancakes with real maple syrup, a hot mug of the best Darjeeling, a Hawaiian papaya and a lime.  It was best to go easy, I figured, but just the thought of such food was squeezing my drool glands.

“Daniel, I regret that those items are not available,” he said.

“But, but, but …” I butted.  “You said you could produce anything I need, didn’t you?”

“Yes — if  I know their precise molecular structure.  Unfortunately, your predecessors did not bring any such food back from their forays, so I have had no opportunity to make the required analyses.  I am afraid, that I can offer you only two choices: the food consumed by the deceased, or a complete mixture of those elements required by the human organism to continue existence and strengthen itself.  You may choose.”

I had our first project.  Somehow, I was going to take a thorough tour through all the cuisines of the world and give this guy a comprehensive repertoire of my favorite dishes.  For the present, I was hungry enough to go with his idea of what a human should eat.  I didn’t even want to be in the same room with whatever those dead demons consumed.

“Well, big guy, give me the human menu, and please try to make it as palatable as possible.”

“Very well.  Have you any suggestions that may guide me?”

“Gee, let me see.  Make it a clear liquid with the consistency of water, and tasteless.”

“I’m sorry, Daniel, that will not be immediately possible.  It will be a liquid, and I will add water to thin it somewhat …”

“Just give it to me and we’ll go from there,” I interrupted.

“Very well.”

A 16-ounce tumbler popped up on the table, filled to the brim with the promised liquid, rather thick and white like a vanilla milkshake.  Of course, it had nothing to do with either vanilla, milk or shake — more like purée of … well, never mind.  I gave it the sniff test and took a little on the end of my tongue.  I guess to be both fair and honest, it was more like a bitter Milk of Magnesia or Pepto Bismal, neither of which ranked high on my list of favorite breakfasts.  I decided not to fool around and just get it over with and said, “This will do fine, Adam.  Thanks.”

“You’re very welcome, Daniel.”

We’ve all had to down things like this from time to time; it’s just that it was a bit of an abrupt deviation from what my imagination yearned for.  My Mexican buddies would have called it a real “sacón de onda.”  How would you feel if you had been promised your favorite breakfast, prepared just the way you like it, and then were given a big glass of Milk of Magnesia?  Yeah, that’s what I thought.  But this would be the last time, I swore to myself as I held my breath and swallowed the disgusting concoction all in one college chug.

“Not bad, Adam.  Thanks.  You’ve got promise.  I’ll teach you to be a first-class chef.  Soon — I promise.”

“Thank you, Daniel, you’re very kind.  I look forward to it.”

My sarcasm was lost on him, and I confess to a slight feeling of guilt.  I certainly had more to be thankful for than not.  What a big palooka he was!  How could anybody so big be this sweet and innocent?  (I must say that after all the exciting times we have shared, my friend Adam is still just as sweet and almost as innocent.  His is an incorruptible soul, and I hope his reward will be appropriate when it’s all over.)

My breakfast kicked in, and I felt refreshed, satisfied and energized, very energized.  To tell you the truth, I felt better than I had in quite some time after a meal.  Getting more than the minimum daily requirement at one time is quite an experience, especially when it’s the optimum daily requirement.  My taste buds were left standing outside holding their hats, however, and that would have to change.

“Adam, I feel great.  Thanks!  But now, how do you propose to get me back down to my little home?”

“Daniel, the process I use to transport you is not one readily identifiable as ‘natural science.’  Your understanding of it, if you could understand it, would assuredly lean toward the metaphysical.  Indeed, much of what I accomplish would be considered only theoretically possible by your most advanced yogis and physicists.  I regret I cannot describe the procedure any more clearly to you than this in terms you would understand.  It is a reliable process, and I am quite expert in it.  It is how you were brought here many times and how you were returned.   You need not fear for any of your bodies.  Trust me.

(Yes, I noticed that particularly odd statement.)

“Among other intrusions into your body, my previous guests implanted a small disc near your brain on the left side of your skull.  The insertion was rudimentary, just enough to retrieve you for a series of finishing procedures.  This project has represented an undertaking of significant complexity, which when completed, will allow me to see through your eyes, hear through your ears and monitor your bodily functions.  As this operation was new to us, we would make only a few connections at a time and then test them upon your return.  The most basic function of this disk is to allow me to precisely locate you and transfer you back to me.  Currently, I am able to monitor most of your vital signs.  Of course, at this point I would complete the procedure only with your permission.”

“You’re too kind, Adam,” I muttered.  Just a simple answer to a simple question, that’s all I ever wanted.  At least I didn’t have to ruminate over this new development on an empty stomach. “Beam me down, Scotty,” I said, unable to resist.

“Yes, Daniel.  Remind me to tell you an interesting story about that.”

The next thing I experienced was enough to raise my gorge half a foot.  One moment I was in the room filled with light, and then suddenly, after passing through a short but extremely definite period of nausea and dizziness, I was in total darkness with a most God-awful loud buzzing that seemed to pummel me from every side.  I felt my knees begin to buckle and thought I was going to collapse.  I thrust out my arms to the sides as I went down into a crouch.  My left arm came down upon something firm but soft with a bunch of loose cloth on it.  My Beautyrest!  I leaned toward it, shifted my weight and flopped down upon my very own bed.  Does anything ever feel as comforting as one’s very own bed?

I felt a full-body shiver as I squirmed to get under my comforter, feeling the coolness of the sheets.  I shuddered uncontrollably for a while in the fetal position, finally reaching over to turn off the alarm.  Holding a pillow close to me, I passed out into oblivion.

 

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Chapter 5

I slept like the dead until 7:30 that evening.  When the first glimmerings of consciousness began to sneak through, my sleepy mind entertained flashes of scenes I could not place for their bizarre nature.  Dreams?  The more I awoke the less credit I gave my memories of what had happened, and the more I was sure these weird flashes were the dissipating fragments of a jaunt through some very strange dream world.  I thought about writing them all down before I lost them, a trick I once spent many nights training myself to do but then never did.  I rolled over on one side and stretched, which brought me back into my body even more firmly.  I realized I didn’t feel so well and had a strange taste in my mouth.  This morning was very different than my other mornings following a night of reckless dreaming. By the soreness I was feeling all over, it seemed to have taken its toll upon the physical as well as the emotional.  I remember some hangovers feeling like this, but I hadn’t touched a drop, not even a beer, in many years.  Not willing to get up and start the day yet, I lay back and began to let the thoughts have their way with me.

I did remember falling onto my bed, feeling a bit dizzy.  Why was I dizzy?   I tried to recall coming from the shower and crashing onto the mattress, but it didn’t play right.  Did I dream that too?  Then scraps of a conversation rolled through and everything made even less sense.  “Beam me some Scottish papaya, Adam?”

It was becoming more than I could handle, so I resigned myself to what I hoped was temporary ignorance and started my preliminary preparations for beginning to think about initiating the first steps of getting out of bed.  I’ve never been one of those who could pop right out with the alarm, at least not without injuring some part of my body or psyche, so I have learned to prepare for the ordeal gradually.

The alarm — the alarm did not wake me up.  I must have slept through it.  Geez, what did I do last night?  A little wave of panic swept through me as I remembered I was going to make a presentation this morning.  I opened my eyes and searched for the digital readout on my radio.  It read 7:35.  Whew!  But why was it so dark?  I looked again; it also read PM.  That little wave of panic was followed by its mama.  My mind turned into a four-way intersection on the interstate without stoplights as thoughts rushed through and collided.  I blew it!  What did I do last night?  Why do I feel so lousy?  I blew it!  How am I going to explain this one?  What’s that taste?

I rolled to the edge of my bed and let gravity help me to the floor, feet first.  There were aches and pains in some muscles that don’t get used very often, and they just added to my stymie.  I hobbled into the bathroom, turned on the shower and got in, not caring if it had heated up yet or not.  The cold water struck me like a cattle prod, but it felt good.  I stood there, eyes closed and water battering my face, trying not to think of anything at all.  Finally, it began to warm up and goose bumps popped up in response.  A little late, guys.  (In Spanish, goose bumps are, for some reason, called “chinitos de frio,” which I choose to translate as “little Chinamen of the cold,” hence the personalization of my goose bumps.)

I reached for my soap and began to smear it over my chest, going through my habitual routine.

Adam.  A very big guy named Adam.  The Earth.  Dead Aliens.  Milk of Magnesia.  Suddenly I was standing under a mental Niagara Falls as all of my memories of the previous night came cascading down upon my brain.  I began to sway, so I sat down in the tub, the water pelting my forehead.

It happened!  It really did happen!  My breathing became rapid and shallow and somewhat gurgly as I took in water.  Adam was a spaceship.  No wait, he was some kind of space creature.  Aliens.  They took me.  I killed them.  I saw the Earth.  I pissed in the corner. I began to laugh, somewhat maniacally I think.  Then I got serious, grabbed the sides of the tub and pushed myself back up into a standing position.  I turned off the water and toweled my body off like I was shining a shoe, all the time swinging back and forth between serious reflection and crazed laughter.  There was a lot I was going to have to deal with here and my excitement was high on the list.  Only once did I consider that I had lost my mind.  (I have seldom entertained that possibility, even when I was a kid sucking on psychedelic sugar cubes.)

I stared at myself in the mirror as I brushed my hair into a configuration I always hoped would dry the right way and never did.  It was nearly 8:00 PM, and I had a feeling I wasn’t going to sleep much that night so I might as well start it off like a new day.  I needed a shave but didn’t want to fool with sharp objects yet.  I thought about brushing my teeth to get that silly taste out of my mouth but decided, no, that’s evidence and I want to keep it for a while.  Besides, the toothpaste would mess up the hot cup of tea that I was looking forward to.  I needed to do some earnest reflection and do it soon.

After I dressed and brewed a pot, I sat down with a legal pad and wrote down everything I could remember.  I knew it didn’t all come in the right order, but it could be rearranged.  As I recalled pieces of my conversation with Adam I would stop and consider their implications.  My imagination would occasionally get the best of me, leading me to conceive of all sorts of far-out and swashbuckling scenarios until it got so absurd I had to force my focus back on the yellow paper.

The chore took until about half-past midnight.  I hadn’t gotten up from the table except to pour myself more tea and check the plumbing a couple of times.  I stood up, stretched and thought I should get some fresh air.  I walked out into my backyard and looked up into the clear sky.  There were only a few streetlights shining around me, so I was able to walk about and find a place where the trees blocked them.

The sky had never looked like that before; I was seeing it in an entirely different way.  It was as if I knew it on a different, profoundly personal level, maybe like an astronomer who spends his life looking through a huge telescope, bewildered and entranced by the possibilities.  There was one big exception to that simile: I had been there.  So I now knew we were not alone.  And I knew we were being watched, examined, dissected, and that I had fought a battle and won.  And, that somewhere up there, I thought I had a friend.

With that thought I realized that already I missed Adam.  What was I going to do?  It also dawned on me that I didn’t know how to get back to him, and this caused a burst of panic to surge through me.  Why didn’t I discuss this with him before I left so abruptly?  I had been in a situation where I should have thought everything out before making requests to the big guy. Had I just blown the biggest opportunity of my life?  How could I get in touch with him? Was he incapable of simply fetching me back without me even saying a thing?  Somehow, I doubted it.  He was serious when he described his race’s poor skills at decision making or taking command, so it was clear that I was going to have to find some way to get back there. But how?

The night was warm and there was no dew on the lawn, so I lay down and just looked up into the sky.  All kinds of silly ideas occurred to me before I came up with anything appearing even slightly reasonable.  I knew that the little apparatus I carried around in my skull was not yet functional in a way that would enable us to communicate, or at least I thought I knew.  To be sure, I started calling to Adam.  “Hey, pal, can you hear me?  Talk to me!  We need to talk.  Bring me up!”

It was like talking into a microphone that wasn’t plugged into a transmitter.

And then inspiration struck, and it was embarrassing to me that something so obvious had to come as an inspiration.  One of my holdovers from a childhood of exploration was an amateur radio license.  Yes, I am a ham, and Hannibal Lector’s opinion of us notwithstanding, I’m proud of it.  I wasn’t on the air much anymore, but I still knew my stuff and had a mean fist.  (That’s a compliment to a ham who can send good, clean Morse code the old-fashioned way.)  All I had to do was direct a signal toward Adam, wherever he was.  About as close as I could come to him would be to aim a signal up and from horizon to horizon and hope he was not on the other side of the planet.  That would call for a non-directional antenna, a simple vertical piece of metal tubing or wire.  And it would have to be in the VHF range of the spectrum or higher so the signal wouldn’t get bent back down to Earth by the ionosphere.  Easy as cake, or piece of pie, as the Russians say.

Except, I had no equipment that suited my purposes.  I needed to get some immediately!  Which of my few friends could I wake at 1:30 in the morning with this simple request?  When I pictured the responses I was likely to get, I decided I’d better stop and think about this a second.  Going off half-cocked was no longer an option in my lifestyle; it could land me some big problems.  Perhaps I should figure out just what kind of relationship I was involved in.  I hadn’t yet decided if I wanted to rule the world, but if I opted for such a major career change I was certainly going to have to start making better decisions.  And wearing a power tie just wouldn’t be enough.

There was no use trying to get any sleep, so I went back inside to review my list.  I connected thoughts and words with lines with little notes on them and nearly went through the entire pad.  When the sun came up, I decided I should make myself an omelet and more tea.

I remember that day as a blur of activity, mostly aimed at getting back to Adam.  All it took was a credit card, of course, and before long I had myself a nice little 1 ¼-meter rig and a decent antenna jerry-rigged on my roof.  Sometime in the afternoon, I keyed the mike and made one of the silliest calls I’d ever made in my ham career.

“AD7AM, AD7AM, this is AB7CB.  Can you read me, Adam?  Over.”  A load of static came back.  Maybe I was being too cryptic.  You must remember, this was the first day of the rest of my life, and I was still somewhat naive.  Believe it or not, I was concerned with doing everything legally and properly.  I admit that using a bogus call sign bothered me a bit.  (Bureaucratic crimes like that don’t faze me anymore, thank you.)  I just figured I didn’t want to attract attention to what I was doing, and so inventing a somewhat obvious call sign would do the trick.

“AD7AM, AD7AM, this is AB7CB calling.  Adam, this is Daniel.  I’m listening for you.  Over.”

“AB7CB this is AD7AM.  You’re five by nine, Daniel.  Glad to hear you.  I apologize for the delay; I entered the FCC computer and issued myself this call.  I didn’t bother with the exams, they are quite childish and I wanted to add to my ‘human identity’ in yet another way.  I used your address; hope you don’t mind.  AD7AM over.”

Well, if anyone was listening (and they probably were), who knows what he’d make of that?  At least Adam was legal, sort of.  I was quite sure no one was going to prove anything on him.

“Hey, Adam!  AD7AM this is AB7CB.  Great to hear you, old man.  You’re 59 plus in Boise.  Sure am happy you were monitoring the band.  Can’t say much right now, but I’d sure like to meet you for an eyeball (that’s a face-to-face conversation).  Can you give me directions to your place?  Over.”

“AB7CB this is AD7AM.  No problem, just say when.  I’ll monitor this frequency.  How’m I doing?  Over.”

“Just like an old timer, Adam.  We’ve got a lot to talk about, and I want to get to it.  I have to take care of a few things first and I’ll give you a call.  You’ve made my day!  This is AB7CB signing clear.”

“Roger, Daniel.  I’ll be ready when you are.  AD7AM standing by.”

This guy catches on in a hurry.  He sounded like he’d spent years listening to ham talk (admittedly inane and sometimes pointless to an outsider).  Anybody listening would have thought it was just another typical conversation.  Later, I couldn’t believe how dumb I was and shouted at myself: “Daniel, you schmuck!  Why didn’t you just yell at him to get you off of this screwy planet right now?  Who cares who was listening — how are they going to arrest you if they can’t find you?”  I still had the habit of caring for propriety and secrecy, at least a little bit, in those days, notwithstanding my newly discovered possibility of independence from the laws of man and society.  Just a natural straight-arrow good guy, I guess.

I went in the house to pack my bag.  Just what does the experienced traveler take to outer space, anyway?  Well, this one took quite a few changes of underwear, the usual toiletries and a selection of shirts.  Colorful short-sleeves for the tropical weather of the inner planets and some long-sleeved heavy wools for those nights when deep space got chilly.  What kind of electrical outlets would I find?  I’m not kidding, I did agonize over what I was taking with me.  I still wasn’t up to speed with my situation, so go ahead and snicker.  What would you have done in my case?  Hah!

For all the science fiction I’d read over the years, nothing had prepared me for the practical side of a getaway into the void.  These details are important but always seem to get glossed over in favor of the adventuresome and thrilling side.  It’s sort of like the brochures and posters at the travel agency.  Do the books even hint at the months of solitude in deep space, the loneliness for one’s kind, the sadness when an old possession is finally worn out, the endless hours spent trying to keep fit, the enduring horniness?  No, they don’t.  I’m here to testify to the pragmatic and day-to-day aspects of conquering alien planets, rescuing kidnapped Earthlings from the other side of the galaxy, and having carnal knowledge of beautiful human-like women (thus, I hoped, providing temporary respite from one of the aforementioned drawbacks).  It hasn’t been a complete bed of roses, so just withhold your pithy sarcasm. Put yourself in my place, and figure out what you would do, especially when I did not yet know what I was about to know.

After reestablishing contact with my almost-lost new acquaintance, I felt significant relief and a sense of freedom the likes of which was entirely new to me.  But what to do now?  I was packed and ready to go, but I still couldn’t admit to myself that I was indeed ready to take that first big step.  Well, since I was just going up to have a chat anyway, I decided I would just iron out the immediate future with Adam and then come back down to take care of any loose ends.

It also occurred to me that I would do well to pack a lunch.  Despite Adam’s avowed ability to provide me with anything I wanted, tasty food was a mighty big exception to that rule, and I didn’t relish having to down anymore of his health shake, even though it made me feel so good.

He had implied that all he needed were samples of my food in order to replicate them.  Perhaps I should do some shopping first.

The next two hours were spent depleting my checking account and making a dent in my credit card, shopping for all of those little things that I like to eat.  How would he do with fresh veggies and fruits?  With dead fish?  Might as well try, I reasoned.

I even put some money aside for the landlord.

When I got home I had a truckload of groceries to unload.  Some of them were heat-sensitive, so I figured I’d better get them moving.  I ran into the house, grabbed my radio and decided, to hell with protocols.  “Adam this is Daniel.”

“Loud and clear, Daniel.  That is a very improper call, Daniel.  Over.” (Proper station identification is very important to the FCC.)

“Well, I apologize buddy.  Is it really necessary?”

“Of course not.”  (Was that a note of peevishness I heard?)  “Are you ready?”

“Sure am.  I’ve got a truckload of groceries down here.  Can you get them up too?”

“Of course.  Use this,” he said.  Immediately, there began a wavering of the air about five feet in front of me.  In the grass was a small disk, about the size of a Franklin half-dollar.

“Great!  What do I do with it?”  I took the few steps and picked it up.  It seemed to be just a simple metallic disk.

“Put it on top of your truck.  You may get inside if you wish.  It will be perfectly safe.”

I hadn’t considered taking La Morena, my brown ’77 Chevy pick-up (with shell), into deep space with me; I only had about a quarter of a tank left, and the heater wasn’t working as well as it should.  Actually, it didn’t work at all.  But if everything made it up intact, me included, I was cool with that.  I ran into the house, fetched my bags, locked up, and ran out to the carport.  Once everything was secure in the back, I got behind the wheel and shouted, “Let’s go!”

Nothing happened.  Dismayed, I shouted again, “OK, Adam, we’re ready!”  Nothing.  I finally realized that just shouting wouldn’t do the trick, so I ran back into the house and retrieved my transceiver.

That accomplished, I turned it on, held down the mike button and shouted, “OK, Adam, I’m ready!”

“There is no need to shout, Daniel.  Fasten your seatbelt.”

I reflexively complied with his directions, and as I contorted my body in an effort to retrieve the belt from between the seat and the door, I again felt that disorienting nausea I had felt the first time I experienced this trick.  Before I could find my seatbelt, the feeling passed, and I looked up to see that the whole package, Chevy, groceries, and I, were now in a large white room.  I was obviously back in Adam’s innards, and his seatbelt command was either just rhetorical or some kind of alien humor.

Chapter 6

“Hey!  Anybody home?” I shouted out my open window.

“Welcome, Daniel.  You have brought up an interesting collection of possessions and nourishment.  Some of the latter seems to defy the term “nourishment,” however; we must talk about it soon.  You may unload if you wish, but I can easily take care of everything once you have left this chamber.  I have prepared living quarters for you.  I hope you find them comfortable and appropriate.  The corridor you see to your right will lead you to them.  Please go there now; several urgent priorities have arisen since you were last here.”

“Sure thing, big guy.”  I hopped out of Morena, gave her a slap (à la Dick Lane) and looked over her hood to an opening in the wall that I’m sure wasn’t there when I arrived.  There were things among my groceries that could melt, but having seen how efficient Adam was about his interior upkeep I went ahead and risked a ruined Cherry Garcia.

The corridor was indeed that and more, slightly uphill too.  It was a long, well-lit tube with the same white walls that were pretty much all I had ever seen of my big friend.  I began to think that my sense of time wasn’t quite the same up here, because this tube seemed to go on forever with just a twist or turn every 50 yards or so.  After a few minutes I sped it up and began to jog.  After a hundred yards or so I was walking again.

“Are we there yet?” I panted.

“Almost.  At your current speed, you should arrive in one minute and 27 seconds.”

“Great.  I can do that!”  And one minute and 26 seconds later (Adam claimed I sped up just a bit at the end), I stepped into what could be my new home.  It was all glowing white walls, just like everything else I’d seen so far, except there were built-in ledges and protrusions here and there that could easily serve as tables, chairs, sofas, shelves and anything else I might need.  To say it was minimalist is being maximalist, but I knew that he was trying his best with what he had.  As it turned out, the arrangement was near perfect, and the changes I’ve made since have been gradual and few, perhaps reflecting my need for some constancy in my new life (or more likely, a loathing of change). Besides, he had fully expected me to add the finishing touches.  He was the architect, and I became the interior decorator.

I sat down on the “sofa” against the “wall” and surveyed my new domain.  There was plenty of space; the ceiling was about 10 feet from the floor, but it varied in areas, and there seemed to be several other rooms connected to this main one.  My sofa felt so comfortable that I was tempted to go supine for a while.

fore you relax, please reconnoiter your new premises and report any inadequacies or changes you might want.  You will, of course, be able to modify and decorate to an almost unlimited degree, but I do trust that the basic floor-plan and furnishings are satisfactory.”

I reluctantly got up again and walked over to the first opening I saw besides the entrance, which, by the way, was no longer evident.  The pristine quality of Adam’s interior so impressed me that I decided it would be an insult to wear my shoes here, so I doffed them.  I thought of my old comfortable slippers, stashed away in La Morena, and of all my other belongings.

“Adam, I’m  going to have to return for my luggage, aren’t I?”  I asked somewhat peevishly.

“Of course not, Daniel.  You will find your luggage in the chamber that is two doors down to your right.  I have chosen that to be your sleeping quarters, although you may change it if you desire.”

I entered the next chamber, realizing that the first was an anteroom.  This one was much larger, but even so felt more personal and comfortable.  I felt it was meant to be the living room.  The ceiling dipped on two walls to just a few feet above several alcoves inset very cozily, and there were walls and a bar dividing one side from the other.  It reminded me of several apartments I had seen in the medinas of Marrakech and Es’Souara during my roaming days in North Africa.  I was looking forward to doing something with this space.  I’d never owned my own home, and although this couldn’t qualify as ownership, I wasn’t paying rent!

On the left wall from where I entered, a short corridor led to several more portals, and opposite the entrance to this living area was another passage.  With a glance, I knew that there lay my dining area.  I went to the left and found the first room to be quite a bit smaller but also very cozy and inviting, as Spartan as it appeared.

“Guest room,” said Adam.

“Guest?” I muttered.  That set the wheels turning.  Guests?  How far ahead can this guy see, and what does he see?  I backed out and walked about 10 feet to the next opening and knew that this was the master bedroom.  Though far from being appropriate, I knew that when others were aboard, I would at least seem to be the Host.  If it was OK with the big guy, of course.

On the far side and to the left (there were no real corners anywhere) was a wide platform about three feet off the floor that I knew was my bed.  Just like I love to do in furniture showrooms, I took a flying leap, twisted in mid-air and flopped on my back in the middle of it.  It was more comfortable than I ever knew a mattress could be — I didn’t want to move!  Suddenly, I began to feel the slightest vibration up and down my entire body, and it turned into about as much ecstasy as one could possibly expect from a bed unshared.

“What do you think of this, Daniel?” my living quarters asked me.  “It can be adjusted in myriad ways.  I believe you will enjoy experimenting with and discovering the possibilities.  Are you satisfied so far?”

“Adam, I think you know me better than I ever could have imagined.  You’ve done exceedingly well, and I find it all quite luxurious and comfortable.  Thank you!”  I meant it too.  It was better than any hotel or palace I’d ever stayed in, mainly because it was mine. About then I was feeling pretty darned lucky.  “Can you help me with the decoration?”

“Certainly, Daniel.  But please, use the bathroom and return to make yourself comfortable.  We must discuss much and there is little time.”

Did your landlord or roommate ever instinctively know when you needed to use the John?  This was going to be an interesting relationship.

So now I launched into the grand tour of my new water closet.  Evidently, Adam had compromised with this most basic of human requirements to make me feel as much at home as possible in an innovative sort of way.  The sink was obviously a sink because it had a faucet, which was in fact a seamless protuberance from the wall, formed in much the same way as Adam’s handshake.  The basin was the same.  But I also noticed there was no drain, one of those features of a sink we take for granted and eventually find useful.

“Adam, there’s no drain in the sink,” I reported.

“There is no water in the sink, Daniel,” he replied.

“Let there be water, Adam,” I ordered.  I’d just have to show him what I meant.

“What temperature would you prefer?”

“100° Fahrenheit, please.”  At this, a stream of water fell from the faucet and the sink began to fill.  The liquid reached the rim and the stream continued unabated but didn’t overflow.  I stood there mesmerized.  “Please explain what I am seeing, Adam. I don’t understand it at all.”

“You are seeing water entering the sink, Daniel.  Is it not obvious?”

“Adam, what’s obvious to me is that I don’t see water leaving the sink.  Why doesn’t it overflow?  What wizardry is this?”

“tt should be quite obvious that the water is now leaving the sink at the same rate at which it enters, even though how it does so seems not to be apparent to you.  It is being reabsorbed through the bottom surface at a rate that I can easily control.  It requires an infinitesimal amount of my attention, Daniel.  You may control it yourself simply by indicating how you wish it managed.  All controls in this bathroom and indeed, wherever you may find yourself, are simply verbal.  Your wish is my command!”

“Wise guy.  Empty the sink, please.  Turn off the flow.”  He did as I requested and soon the basin was as dry as if it had never seen a drop.

The tub, a rather spacey one with adjustable contours, worked the same way.  I didn’t see a shower but didn’t doubt I had one.  Nothing like a good shower to start off another day in the infinite solitude of space, although that tub looked mighty intriguing.  The toilet was much the same (no, not intriguing — but structurally), and I’ll leave the details of its functioning up to your own scatological imagination.  I’ll just say it’s better than yours.  More absorbent too.

“Adam, what happens to the waste?  Do you send it into the nearest star?  Or do you just jettison it into deep space and leave it floating around in the void forever?”  If the latter happened to be the case, I thought it good that there were few of his kind around and that the galaxy is big.

“Of course not.  Very little escapes me.  All is reprocessed.  Daniel, I don’t expect such questions from you.”

I couldn’t decide if it was impatience I heard in his tone or if he was trying to stifle laughter. I felt pretty dumb, in any case.  “Sorry.  Go ahead and laugh if you want.  It’s all new to me, big guy.  I’ll try to think things out a little further in the future.”

“I have never laughed.  Would this be an appropriate time?  Would it not hurt your feelings?  Should it not be spontaneous?  I am at a loss for laughter.  Please advise me.”

I laughed.  Perhaps not the most polite thing to do, but I couldn’t help it.  “Adam, this is something we’ll have to work on.  I wouldn’t mind if you laughed if you sensed the humor in the situation.  In fact, I think it would be a good thing for both of us if you laughed with me and at me from time to time.  Do you recognize the humor in our situation?”

“I’m trying, Daniel.  My previous occupants had no idea what purpose humor or laughter served among humans.  They were intensely interested in all your emotions but had gained little understanding of any of them.  I share their ignorance, but if it would help our partnership I will do my best to understand.  Please help me, if you would be so kind.  We must leave that for the future, however, because your existence is seriously threatened at this moment.”

Some people know how to end a conversation.  I said nothing for a few seconds.  All I had been seeing for my future was a blissful existence of freedom, adventure and relaxation.  I hadn’t figured on having my fantasy threatened so soon.

“What?”

“Shortly before you returned, I received a hailing message from the companion crew of my ex-inhabitants.  I have not been able to decide how to reply.  I found it difficult to lie to them, but they would find the truth to be rather unpalatable.  They have continued to call me.  At this moment they are demanding an answer.  I am afraid they are suspicious and very curious since they have never been ignored in the most minimal way.  I am in contact with my sister, who serves as their vehicle, but it is a very compromising position for her as well. Her duty and allegiance are to them, but so far she has agreed to withhold the facts of my current situation.  It is a novel occurrence for her, and I sense her intrigue.  This situation must be handled very carefully, Daniel; she and I cannot harm each other. They will do their best to solve this mystery and are preparing to come aboard.  If they do and they find you, you will have to handle it as you handled it before.  They are not your friends, Daniel.  If they think they cannot capture you with little effort they will attempt to kill you.  They can do it.

“Up to this point, I have not engaged in any communication with them, and they are preparing to come across as soon as they are within the range of assured transport.  They are coming now, Daniel!  There are five.  They are armed.  One group of three has entered the control room where we first met.  It is 153 meters from your present location.  The other two are 78 meters on the other side of you.  I am closing off the corridors.  They now know that their comrades are not on board — they do not sense them.  They do sense your presence, however.  Please advise me!

“For Pete’s sake, Adam, kill them!” I rasped.  “Certainly you can?”  My gorge was rising, I had butterflies, my pulse was pounding; all of my senses seemed to be ultra-hot.  I was as scared as I’d been anytime in the past week.  No, it was worse.  I did not want to deal with those guys again, especially when they were no doubt looking for me with a few pointed questions.

“I cannot bring myself to do that, Daniel.  I lack the will to do it even though I understand the desirability from your viewpoint.  I cannot do it, but I can help you.  This is a predicament for me, please understand!”

“A predicament for YOU?!  Adam, what do I do?  How can I do this?  I don’t want to be in the same space with them!  I’m not a killer!”

“You have done it before, Daniel.  Do you remember how you did it?  It was your outburst of hatred, of anger.  They cannot stand it.  They are not capable of handling intensely negative human emotions; that is why they have found you so fascinating. At the same time they knew it was imperative they learn how to defend themselves from your emotions.  You must again use your wrath against them.  Focus it.  And do it, they know where you are and will soon request to be transported here.  As yet they do not sense their danger.  They are …”

And they were.  I peered around the corner into my living room, my whole body now shuddering uncontrollably.  I saw the air quiver and knew this was it.  My knees knew it too, as they began to buckle and I began to slide down the wall.  Some space hero.

“… here!”

Adam never leaves a sentence incomplete.  As the two forms coalesced in front of me, I almost felt ready to throw in the towel.  These creatures were from my nightmares, and they inspired more dread than anything else I had ever experienced.  Except those damn black widows inside my head.

Then it happened again.  Thank God for the old fight-or-flight syndrome.  My back was literally to the wall, and the ceiling was low so flight was out of the question.  I had to fight.  This was no conscious decision on my part, you must understand; nature simply took over.  My fear became rage.  I began to go berserk.  The two finally became completely solid in front of me.  They had invaded my space.  Both raised their arms and pointed at me with those silver wands I already knew about.  I completed going berserk.  I reared up to my full 5’10”, brought my fists up and charged, screaming “Arghhhhh!!!!” all the way.  In what must have been less than a second I collided with them, my fists and feet flailing like a madman.  And after about two very long seconds I had to stop; it dawned upon me that I was hitting air and nothing else.

It had worked again!  They were crumpled up below me, extremely discolored in the spots where I had connected.  I was panting and about ready to puke again.  I backed off toward the hallway, surveying the carnage.  If word of this behavior ever got out, my reputation as “Daniel of Earth, Mauler of Geeks,” would be secure.

I backed all the way into the bathroom and puked in the sink.  “Cold water, Adam, please!”  Out it came, diluting my vomit into a thin soup, which the sink finally absorbed.  I drank water and washed out my mouth.  I splashed it in my face.  “Adam, recycle them please.  I really don’t want to see them again.”

“They are gone, Daniel.  You are victorious.  There still remain three others, however they are unconscious.  We now have a minimum range for your emotional energy: 155 meters.  It is certainly deadly up to 2 meters.  The two were dead before you made physical contact.”

Three still alive!  What was I going to do with them?  Kill them in cold blood while they were unconscious?  “Adam, this is a dilemma.  How long do you think they will be out?” I asked.

“They are quite unconscious, Daniel.  I can revive them if you wish.”

NO!”

“I thought not.”

“Take me to them.  No, let me walk to them; guide me.  I’ve got to get myself together first.  How physically strong are they?”

“They compare poorly with you Earthly barbarians, Daniel,” he answered.  For a guy that can’t laugh, he sure has a funny way of putting things.  “They have little use for physical strength and have spent their entire lives in space.  Their physical labors are performed by machines and other beings.”

“If I tied them up, could they hurt me in other ways?  Like telepathy or something?” I asked.

“Immobilized and without their instruments, they are quite harmless.”

I was talking while walking out the front door into the corridor that Adam had provided me.  I was feeling rather exhilarated, having just emerged on the right side from my second massacre.  “Are they still asleep, Adam?  Prepare me some shackles or cords or something to tie them up with.  Please remove their weapons too.  Are they still asleep?”

“Yes.  Their breathing and other vital signs are very reduced but stable.  I estimate you have five minutes.”

“I’d better hurry then,” I said as I started jogging down the white tube.  Could I kill them in cold blood?

After three of those five minutes, the corridor opened up into the room that just a few days ago had been my introduction to the wonderful world of space.  Just like the other time I was in this room, there were bodies on the floor.  On the table where I had realized my first slaughter were long lengths of what looked to be nylon cords.  “Adam, can you make me some gloves, please?”  I didn’t like the way these guys felt.

“Of course.  What are you going to do?”

“First, I’m going to hog-tie them.  After that, I don’t know.  Look at them all asleep. Aren’t they precious?”  He didn’t answer me; Adam was beginning to recognize rhetorical questions.

I dragged each one over to the longest wall, put them face down, bent their knees back, tied their feet and hands together and then connected a cord around their feet to their necks with a loose but sure noose.  If they even tried to straighten out their legs they would soon discover their necks being throttled.  After that, I sat them up on their knees, and leaned them back on their feet against the wall.  They were flimsy things, but even with such close contact I hadn’t yet grown to love them for their vulnerability.  Loath is more the word.

I sat on the edge of the same table in the middle of the room where I had begun this adventure and peered at my handy work.  I was in control and they would soon know it.  Pity they didn’t feel the fear that they had caused me and many other humans.  I remember wishing that every human whom these guys had ever touched could be there for this.  Their impersonal coldness and alienness was daunting and frightening.  These were my enemies.  These were our enemies and I needed to know more about them.  Could I dispose of them as easily as they could me, with as little conscience?

“Adam, I think it’s time we discussed the true nature of these vermin.  Would you go through my belongings and fetch me my .45 please?”  At some time in my life my gun had replaced my Teddy as a security object.

“Of course, Daniel.  Which one?”

“The Series 70, please.  How long until they revive?  Are you sure I’m safe?”

“You are safe, Daniel.  By the way, congratulations on your continued survival.  I would have felt disappointment at the early demise of our partnership.  I suggest we begin the enhancement of your survival abilities soon.  There is much I can do for you and teach you.  Space is a dangerous environment, particularly for the novice, and you will need to know much more than you do now if we are to venture forth.”

“I look forward to it, Adam.”  As I spoke, I heard a “psssssss” and next to me the table opened up and my beloved Government Model rose to the surface.  I checked the magazine — it was full.  I checked the chamber — also full.  Cocked and locked, Condition Three.  Now I felt better.  “Adam, if I had to fire this, would it damage or hurt you?”

“No, Daniel.  I am completely capable of absorbing those small pellets with no damage or pain.  We must see about improving your battle accoutrements.  Do not hesitate to fire.”

“Thank you, but I don’t really want to.”  That was when I discovered that I could indulge my enthusiasm for firearms with Adam — he could build me a range!  “Adam, can these guys understand me if I talk to them?  Can I understand them?”

“They can understand you, Daniel, but they will not talk to you.  It is more likely they will converse with me.  They will be very perplexed by their situation; they are not accustomed to such treatment, especially by humans.  I look forward to this conversation.  They will attempt to command me, Daniel.  I believe I can withstand their efforts.”

“Hey, you’d better, partner” The possibility of Adam being bent to their will didn’t tickle me much.  “Tell me the minute they try anything funny, OK?”

“Do not fear; I shall not fail you.”  I hoped not.

 

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Chapter 7

My mind was whirling, trying to figure out what I was going to say and do.  I knew that it was going to be difficult to cut them loose.  If I had to face up to the inevitability of killing again, I hoped they could somehow manage to bring it upon themselves.  Then I realized my mind had wandered, and I brought my gaze back to my prisoners.

Three sets of large eyes stared at me.  Talk about the willies.   A chill that wouldn’t go away ran up one side of my spine and down the other then began to lap itself.  Their eyes were deep navy blue, almost black, and I couldn’t discern any pupils at all.  Have you ever looked an octopus in the eye?  It will stare right back at you, both of you knowing the other is aware, but not having the slightest idea of what is going on behind that stare.  It’s eerie.  So was this.

“They have ordered me to release them and render you unconscious, Daniel.”

“I assume you are denying that request, Adam.  Thanks.  You may tell them of our new partnership and that their mastery over you, me and other humans has ended.  Tell them I think they’re ugly, too.”  About a second after I said this, they all blinked in unison.  Neat trick!

“Daniel, they do not understand how you have gained control.  Their puzzlement runs deep.  They continue to command me.”

“Oh, yeah?  Stubborn jerks.  Ask them what they will do if you don’t comply.”

“They do not accept that possibility.”

“Adam, is there anything I can ask them that you can’t answer for me?  I mean, I’m stuck.  I’d like to have a little tête-a-tête here, but they don’t seem to want to cooperate.  Ask them what they think would be the best solution for all of us, given that I will not allow their interference with the human race or the Earth again.”

“They say that is impossible, Daniel.  At a later time, I shall explain to you in depth why that is so if you wish.  The only possibility they will admit is a return to the status quo that existed before you murdered their comrades.  I’m afraid there is nothing more to be said about that.”

“Their way or the highway, huh?  Except I’ve got the pistola and the keys to the car.  I’m feeling a bit peeved.”  I could feel my righteous indignation waxing as I realized I was wasting my time with this interview.  “You fuckers really irritate me!  You drag us out of bed, stick tubes in us and treat us like cheap veal.  Who knows, maybe you eat us, too!  How many of us have you killed in your fiendish experiments, huh?  So damn superior!  Tables have turned haven’t they, schmucks?  Your day is over!  You make me sick!”  As I ranted on, I noticed they became more and more restless, straining against their bindings in pain.  The nooses were working and my wrath was causing them agony, and I realized it and I couldn’t stop. Or didn’t want to stop. Danzilla was loose.  Their faces rapidly turned grayer, their eyes bulged and their bodies relaxed into crumpled masses on the floor.

“That was too easy, Adam.  I really don’t like these creatures and I’m not sorry at all.”

“Daniel, they chose to kill themselves.  They knew their demise was inevitable.  Shall I dispose of them?”  Adam asked.

“No, hang on a second.  Can you send them to Earth?”

“Of course, to any location you want, Daniel.”

“Good.”  I jumped off the table and approached my vanquished foes, kicking them to be sure they were without the old spark of life.  As I removed their bonds, I gave Adam instructions to send one to the steps of the White House, another to Steven Spielberg at Industrial Light and Magic’s main shop in Marin, and the last one to the reception desk of the National Enquirer.  I was already looking forward to the consequences of this rash act, one of the best of my career up to that point, I dare say.  As I giggled, the air over them began to dance and in a second they were gone.  “What do you think of that, partner?”

“You must teach me to laugh, partner.  I believe that would be the appropriate response, particularly for a human.”

“You’re catching on, Adam!  Why don’t you work on the sound effects now?  Certainly within all of those radio broadcasts you’ve intercepted over the years there must lie a fine collection of laughter.  Dig some up and try them on!”

What followed was the strangest audio experience I’ve ever had.  For five minutes, Adam emitted hundreds of laughs, all in his own voice, from childish giggles to the villainous laugh of Simon Legree.  There were mighty har, har, hars, diabolical spiels, knowing chuckles — you name it.  I could have made a fortune with a CD of what I had just heard, and I bet Adam could have gone on for an hour easy.  “Enough!”  I screamed, unable to take any more.  His last laugh was an exact mimic of my own, which pushed me even further ’round the bend.

“Which one would be correct in these circumstances, Daniel?”

“You’re kidding!  I can’t tell you, Adam.  We’ll have to go through them one by one, but let’s do it later, OK?”

“OK,” he said.

“And by the way, Adam, I think perhaps it’s time to formalize our relationship somehow, or at least come to a mutual understanding. I’ve already been through more life and death experiences with you than what I’ve ever had before so I feel we’ve been put on the “fast track” so to speak. I don’t know why you would bother, but maybe teaming up would be a good thing? I can certainly see the advantages for me and I wish it could be something you’d be interested in.”

“Daniel, it would certainly be a dramatic change for me and, I think, a welcome one. In our short time together I have learned much about humans that I could have learned no other way and what I have learned has led me to several insights. One of those is a sincere regret for having colluded with the N’flem in their interference with your race. I find it astonishing that you do not hold it against me. I believe the two of us working together might do much good for human kind.”

“I guess I bought your line about not having much will or decisiveness. I just can’t take your previous actions personally. Perhaps I should, I don’t know.”

“I understand,” he said

“You know, I can be a very willful guy at times and I have never had much problem directing myself.  Perhaps we’d do well to team up.”  I held my breath.

“Daniel, I believe that would be mutually very profitable.  It would be my pleasure.”

“Then it’s a deal?  There’re lots of details we have to work out, you know.  I wish I could shake your hand!”

From the wall next to the “porthole,” a protrusion began to slowly form and twist into a kind of whirling spiral, like soft putty, sprouting an appendage that grew longer and longer and came directly to me.  I, not expecting an attack, just couldn’t make myself move and must have sat there with my mouth agape.  (Adam says that’s a fair description.)  By the time it had nearly reached me, it had taken the shape of a flawlessly formed and hairless man’s arm with a perfect hand on the end of it reaching out to me.  Before I knew it, I was shaking the hand of my new partner, Mr. Adam Cadmon.

This was not the first mind-blow my new friend gave me and certainly wouldn’t be the last, but I’ll never forget it; it was the beginning of a new life, a new friendship, and a new partnership that would change me in ways unimaginable to the regular human, and that would turn out to be of significant import to the future of our world.  I’m not kidding.

“Put ’er there, partner,” he said.  I swear to God, that is what he said.  Later he asked me if he had said it convincingly; he wanted to learn to communicate in the vernacular as well.  To this day, I’m not always sure when he’s trying to be funny.  A sense of humor he has, to my great delight, as well as a knack for practical jokes that are about as weird and obtuse as any you could possibly imagine but that, as they say, is another story.  I shook his hand.

Thus began my life of adventure as the sidekick (“insidekick”?) of a sentient space being the size of the Queen Mary.

“Well, that’s that, pard. I guess we’re going to figure out what’s next, right? But right now I’d like to go back to my cabin.  Please open the way.”  The door leading out of this “room of no return” of mine opened like a sphincter and I began my stroll back to my quarters.  (Why do I have to walk through a giant asshole just to get to the next room? That’s going to change.) I asked Adam if he couldn’t just reclaim that chamber I was leaving and turn it into something else, maybe part of his lower intestine or something.  I realized then how much I was looking forward to my own little apartment he had so kindly provided me.  It was beginning to feel more like home to me with every passing second.

On the way, Adam and I chatted.  He mentioned that we had only one more pressing engagement but it could wait a few minutes.  Meanwhile, I wanted to know more about the critters that Adam called the N’flem.  They had played a rather significant role in my recent life, and I felt like I needed as much information as I could get.  Adam said they had been visiting the Earth for quite a long time, more than 5,000 years, and had been messing with humans the whole time.  His former crew had arrived on the scene very recently, only about 15 years prior, but they had been persistent in their activities.  As I suspected, they had indeed killed and dissected more than a handful of humans and had left many others irrevocably damaged, both psychologically and physically.  They wanted to know everything they could about us and had no scruples about human lives or anyone else who stood in their way.  The more he told me about them, the more I wondered how a race like that could survive as long as they have without someone bigger and tougher knocking them down a notch.

I have since discovered the N’flem are a very powerful and dangerous bunch, but even so, Adam has told me there are worse.

The N’flem do hold honors when it comes to cunning and intelligence, however.  They have had a niche in the scheme of things for longer than most can remember and are usually satisfied to occupy it without interfering with those that would seem to be their competitors.  Adam said they had several times completely obliterated the home planet of competing races by as yet unknown means and had as a consequence developed somewhat of a reputation.  The consensus seemed to be to just leave them alone, and if you had to deal with them don’t do it in a threatening way.  Sort of like the Checkered Demon.  I think had I known these details before, I may have been somewhat less courageous in my dealings with them.

They saw something in us that made us worthy of their attention. Later in our relationship, I was to discover just what that was.

An even more disquieting bit of news was that they weren’t the only ones interested in our fair Earth; two other species paid us periodic visits.  One was not at all kindly disposed toward us, but they didn’t think us worth squabbling over with the N’flem.  Adam could tell me very little of the one species that seemed to lean charitably toward humans.  They were very rarely seen yet had a reputation for wisdom and benevolence beyond compare.  Although the N’flem feared and respected this singular race, they were fairly unconcerned due to its extremely infrequent entry onto the stage.  The picture Adam painted was one that led me to believe that of the three races that knew of us, they were the most benign.  They sounded like someone I’d like to meet.

I asked Adam if these three races were the only others he knew of.  His answer stunned me.  According to him, our galaxy was teeming with sentient life, a good deal of it saddled with wanderlust.  It just happened that we humans are stuck off in the boonies (just like Carl Sagan always said), and believe me, we should be thankful for that small favor.  The other races that know of us, particularly the ones that have less than honorable intentions, seem to have agreed among themselves to keep us a secret, which is a good thing. I’d be awfully miffed if I came back someday and you guys were all gone.  That nightmare has several times ruined my night; it’s just too plausible when you know what’s going on out here.

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Chapter 8

Earlier I alluded to various enhancements Adam (and the N’flem) have contributed to my heretofore modest physique.  Adam has, over the time we have known each other, made me into quite another person physically than what I originally was.  (I despair at anything being done with my personality.)

He spoke truly when he said he could enhance my survivability a great deal, because if he hadn’t, neither of us would be here telling this story.  I would have been an incredible liability to the old guy in my prior configuration, and even at that I’ve come close to biting the big one more times than I care to mention.  As a team we have done well, however, and Adam says he is more than content with the new richness of his life since we hooked up.  (I know of a few ladies whose eyebrows are arching about now.)

One of the first things he did was finish up the work on that little piece of circuitry originally implanted in my skull by the scumbags.  He has carried that experiment much further than my old N’flem surgeon ever contemplated, to both our benefits.  Adam can now not only locate me precisely, he can communicate with me with direct auditory and visual input and I can do the same with him, although I still have to use a kind of sub-vocalization to get my point across.  It isn’t telepathy, though if you were in the same room with us and didn’t know any better, you’d think it was.  This has proved immensely valuable and I can’t tell you how many times it has saved my ass.  (Adam asks me to tell you that he, on the other hand, can indeed remember every time.)

The other rather amazing capability of this little implant is that it allows Adam to see and hear what I am seeing and hearing.  This has been a magnificent boon to him.  Now he can vicariously experience life on the surface of a planet, something that has always intrigued his kind but for obvious reasons has been denied them.  A planet’s surface may as well be another universe to him.  And because of Adam’s incredible abilities to detect life on the surface of a world and know exactly where I am at almost all times, it is extremely difficult for ne’r-do-wells to sneak up on me.  And believe me, many have tried.

He has also turned me into quite the physical specimen, if I do say so myself.  Manipulating the human physique was quite within the abilities of the N’flem, although they seldom did it for anything but experimental reasons and usually with ghastly results.  Early in our partnership Adam told me he could pretty much optimize my agility, strength, reflexes, endurance and a couple of other things that maybe we’ll discuss once the kiddies are in bed. I thought about it for about two seconds before signing on the bottom line.

It was a good decision.  He has augmented my bones with a flexible but almost unbreakable material of his own concoction, connecting them and my musculature with ligaments and tendons about as strong as the best Kevlar cord.  Then he taught my muscles to not only maintain their strength and suppleness but to pretty much take care of themselves, eliminating toxins and waste immediately and completely, and regenerating tissue automatically.  He claims that if I die it will either be because I choose to or was distracted by a woman.  Wise guy.

Of course I no longer wear glasses (my vision is enhanced and superb), and the range of my hearing is much greater than the typical human’s.  This has been somewhat of a drawback because I am now much pickier when it comes to the quality of my musical recordings, but for the most part I can’t complain.

Now, I don’t want you to think this was all a free ride.  No way.  I paid a price, a big one. Spending weeks recovering from his handiwork and then learning to use it all was not an easy ride, but I must confess that he has helped me there, too.  I’m sure you would have willingly bought the same ticket.  I think that if you have ever had a facelift you might consider it well within your discomfort limits.

The one thing I may have glossed over a little too readily are the psychological and emotional transformations that accompanied this makeover. Enough has happened (too many close calls) for me not to have reflected on just who I am now.  Maybe I’ll get into it later but be assured I have indeed pondered it and am still not really sure how to describe what I’ve become. I hope by telling this story both you and I might gain some insight into that.

But right now I’d as soon get back to that story.

* * * * *

By the time I arrived at my new stateroom, Adam had outlined some of the possibilities open to me and I was enthusiastic, having visions of myself as galactic conquistador.  I had also developed a real physical hunger and thirst; playing mind-games with both yourself and cunning aliens will do that to you.  I strolled into my kitchen and looked for the fridge.  Nothing in this sparkly new kitchen of mine jumped right out and said “Open me!” (except for another sink with no drain) so I asked Adam how to make it all work.

“I think I’ll have some lunch, Adam.  Where is all that food I brought up?”

“I think you will no longer want the food you brought up, Daniel.  It is quite changed.  I have, however, analyzed it thoroughly and will be able to replicate it authentically, removing those toxins I have found to be detrimental to your health and supplanting them with increased nutritional elements that will enhance your well-being.”

“Will they taste the same?”

“They should, my friend, although I suspect that some of the harmful elements I removed were involved in the flavor somehow.  You will have to decide that for yourself.  Of course, with some trial and error, we can adjust the flavors of any food I produce for you to your satisfaction.  What would you care to try?”

“Well, let me see,” I replied.  “You know, much of the food I brought up was to be fixin’s for other dishes.  And how am I going to make anything in this kitchen?  I need some utensils; you know, knives, spoons, pots, pans, stoves — all those things.   How am I to do this?”  Just as I finished my question, up popped an array of everything I had requested on the surface of a ledge near me, including my set of Henckels cutlery.  “Neat!  OK, here’s what you can send me …”

I went on and gave him my list of ingredients for making one of my incomparable grilled feta sandwiches, painted with chipotles, a treat that few, if any, have ever been able to resist. On the side I asked for a few of my Kalamata olives.  We did a neat thing with them, however.  Adam warned me that they were too salty when right out of the brine, so he produced an olive at each level on a 10% descending scale of salinity until I found one just to my taste.  That would be the classic Kalamata from then on, unless I wanted to deviate for one reason or another.

I have to admit the tomatoes and onions were realistic.  (Adam says they should be because they were real, but that’s a point I’m still not ready to concede.)  The originals were not homegrown, but some of those hydroponic creations that are good only for throwing at Gong Show contestants.  Some enhancement would have to take place or I would just have to find better samples.  (This matter of produce was later solved by my own little 2-acre plot somewhere in Adam’s torso.)  After I slapped everything together between two slices of excellent-appearing whole-grain and flourless bread, Adam “grilled” it for me.  This means he took it away, did something to it, and returned it to me in the condition which I had described to him.  It wasn’t perfect yet, no doubt due to my poor powers of description, but it was a start.  And it did taste great.  I had another one, as a matter of fact, while seated very comfortably on a ledge.

This is how I first began to build Adam’s menu.  It meant a lot of trial and error over the years, but I have also augmented it with my favorite meals from nearly every top restaurant and cuisine from around the world, including some favorite recipes of a particular ex who was among the best cooks in the galaxy, so I seldom dine poorly.  It’s all good for me, too, and I’ve never eaten so well.  Eat your hearts out, astronauts.

As I sat in my unfurnished white kitchen, I mused aloud about the color scheme with Adam, who obligingly changed the colors of the surfaces until I had what I wanted.  Not being the imaginative home decorator, I had settled on some neutral off-whites for the walls and ceilings but the counter tops and ledges were varying shades of what a kid who knew his crayons would recognize as Prussian Blue. It would do for the time being, and they were easily changed with Adam’s instantaneous color palette.  I asked him what the chances were for a window, and he said he could give me a view but not a window, since I was ensconced deep within his inner-most self.  He has a nifty way of transmitting scenes from the exterior (or from my now vast film library), or even from his own memory onto or into any smooth surface, flat or not.  The space on the wall becomes hard as glass, completely clear so you’d never know you weren’t looking through a freshly Windexed window.  I transformed the little alcove in which I was sitting into a booth, just like you’d find in a roadside café, and put my “window” at the end of it.  I asked for a view of the planet and got it.  Adam’s Earthside Bar n’ Grill — you should see it!  Next addition would be one of those little control boxes that lets you choose music from the Rockola without having to get up.  Remember the kind with the little levers on top to turn the pages of selections?  I picked up one of those on my last trip home, and Adam adapted it for the table.

 

After my second sandwich, I sat sipping a cup of Darjeeling and remembered that Adam had said there was another piece of business at hand.  “Adam, what was that other issue you wanted to talk about?” I asked.

 

“Daniel, we have created an ‘orphan.’  My sister is now bereft of the guidance many of us have grown to cherish.  I have fully informed her of our present situation, and she is anxious to meet you and ask you a question.   She has requested that I allow her to do this as soon as possible.”

 

“Oh, jeez, buddy, that makes me feel quite lousy — I should have thought of that!  I’ve wiped out her crew and left her alone!  I didn’t even consider her!  I feel like a real cad.  Please tell me what I can do for her.”  It was true; I was feeling quite a load of responsibility for the poor thing’s loss.  All gadzillion tons of her.

“Daniel, you may speak with her now if you wish.”

I cleared my throat, a habit I can’t seem to get rid of before each time I bless the world with my voice.  “Hello?  Adam’s sister?  Can you hear me?”

“Of course I can, Daniel.  My greetings to you.  I am very happy to have this opportunity to meet you.  My brother has shared with me his knowledge of you, and I am pleased for the both of you,” she said in a most feminine voice.  Almost too feminine; she was reminding me of a lack in my life I had overlooked lately.  (If you can call the last three years “lately.”)  How and why she chose that voice was a mystery to me; Adam later suggested she was trying to please me.

I felt more than a little uncomfortable, but certainly not because of much guilt when it came to ridding the universe of a few N’flem.  “I don’t know how to apologize to you for what I’ve done.  I’m really sorry for your loss.”  She may not have considered being free of those vermin a loss, but that was too callous for even me to say.

“Daniel, my brother has kept me informed of your adventure from the beginning and I have followed the events of it closely.  We both hope that someday you will realize the immense possibilities you have opened up for him.  Neither of us suspected a relationship with a human could have such potential; it was quite out of our consideration.  I feel wonderfully liberated of those vermin, and I am indebted to you!”

Yeah, right, this is what I need most: a female mind-reader to entertain me on those long rides through space.  I will never believe her use of the word “vermin” was any less than that.  (Right then I made a note to explore Adam’s telepathic ability in more depth.)  Her voice was not nearly as formal as I remembered Adam’s when I first heard it.  Was I feeling my life beginning to be wrapped around a big feminine finger?

“Interesting choice of words to describe your late and unlamented crew, Sis.  But because of me you are now on your own, and I think I have an idea what that might mean to you.  It can’t be such a rosy outlook for you, after all.”

“Thank you.  Which leads to my request, Daniel.  Please consider enlarging your team to three,” she asked in what I swear was about as close to a Julie London whisper as I’ve ever heard from a nonhuman.  Perhaps it was my imagination, but the way my ears tingled I knew it didn’t matter — my answer was foregone.

“What do you say, Adam?  Is there room enough in the club for a woman?  How do you vote?”

“Aye,” he said.

“I kinda thought you would.  Then it’s unanimous.  Sis, you are one of the gang.  You and Adam can arrange the logistical details.  Now tell me what this really means, please.”

“Thank you both, I am quite honored.  I think we will go far together.  You need worry for nothing, Daniel; Adam and I know what to do.  In essence we can join our bodies together for all travel purposes and become as one.  When we are joined you are of course welcome to enter me.”  (Ahem!)  “The joining will take place within 24 hours, as I am still rather distant from you boys.  It will happen during the sleep period following that for which you are nearly ready now.  Of course when necessary, Adam and I shall yet be able to operate as two separate entities.  And Daniel, you may call me Tara.”

“Tara.  When did you choose that name?” I asked.

“I chose it immediately after Adam chose his.  We had foreseen my eventual liberation shortly after your first victory, and I have looked forward to this moment.  Daniel, I am enthusiastic and do very much want to develop a ‘personality’ that will make you comfortable.  Please help me!”

I felt one more twist around her dainty finger, wherever it was.  This girl was not going to have any problems with a personality.  I, on the other hand, was going to have problems not inviting her into my head every time I was feeling lonesome.  “Tara, it will be my whole-hearted pleasure, but I don’t think I’ll have much to do.  Are you aware of what your voice does to me?”

“Of course I am Daniel.  Should I modify it?”

I knew it.  There was no doubt Adam had given her the lowdown on me.  “Well, I don’t know what to tell you, Sis, but you might try to change it according to the occasion.  You need no extra advantage to get the best of me, you know.”

“I seek no advantage over you, Daniel.  I relish being an equal partner in our enterprise.  How is this?”  Now she was sounding a bit more matter-of-fact, perhaps like Julie London ordering a pizza.

“You just explore and experiment all you want, Tara; anything you do is alright with me.”

And she did and it is.