To understand humans they must mate with humans. They go undercover as virgin sex researchers
The sky was blue and clear, the air fresh and cool, and the snow was deep and untracked. The glittering white snowfield extended as far as he could see. He wondered about the silver skis, didn’t remember them. They had a mind of their own. He had never skied on anything like them before. They took him sailing down into the snow, a flurry of crystals following him down, clinging to his face and his feather-like beard as he swept through the light, cool powder.
Then, from nowhere, a voice called out. He turned, shifting his weight and digging the downhill edges of his skis into the fresh snow, coming to a wide curving stop amidst a cloud of light snowflakes. The voice of an old woman, called out again, “Mister. Mister. Are you all right?” But it made no sense to Bones: this was not the place for a voice such as this. Soon the voice stopped and Bones went on.
He skied through a cloud, past an ice covered cliff, and then came to a ridge from which he could see endless valleys and tall pointed white peaks, shrinking in the distance against the warm, blue sky. It occurred to him to be strange that he was the only one skiing on this perfect day. Something told him that it was all his and his alone.
Then he came to a grove of pine trees and skied in and out of them, yodeling as he wound his way through, though he had never been able to yodel before. Beyond the trees, he came to a field of hard packed snow, dotted with huge, well formed bumps. He found himself dancing in and out of them. It was odd there was no burn in his thighs. He couldn’t recall ever having skied large bumps like these so well, with so much control and yet without the slightest burn.
After the field of bumps, again he came to a wide open slope of light powder. He stopped to rest, though he didn’t feel tired. He took in the never ending view, the silence and the stillness of it all.
No matter how he might listen, it was still and quiet, he wondered where the lifts were, the machinery and the noise. Something told him there were none; he accepted that, let it go from his mind and went on.
He followed a trail down alongside a ridge and looked out over the valley below and the place seemed familiar. Below him there was a deep valley with a little knoll on the left and a high peak to the left of the knoll. He could see her in the distance on the knoll. There was a booming sound that filled the valley. Avalanche. He looked up to the peak on the left and saw it forming, rolling, a cloud of thunder.
Bones knew what to do. No time to waste, just react. The silver skis knew what to do too, for as soon as he thought of it, the skis were in motion as if they could read his mind and his intentions. Faster, faster, toward the knoll, toward Rachel. “Rachel, get out of there,” She didn’t hear him. He skied faster, into a crouch.
The Avalanche was getting closer. He could hear its roar, like rolling thunder. The ground vibrated under him. The ice crystals forming in the air around him, creating a veil. Faster. In and out of the forest of evergreen trees, the trees became a blur. Out of the trees, coming down the trail that led to the top of the knoll. Close to her now.
He reached for her as he and the avalanche approached her together. Her, the prize for them both. The roar, the ground thundering, snow smoke blinding his vision. He slowed down enough to sweep her up in his arms and then he turned downhill to pick up speed, racing the avalanche at his heels. Faster, he must go faster. Don’t fall. Can’t fall. He was in a crouch, Rachel over his back, in a full schuss, the crushing thunder of the avalanche at his back, chasing him down, a monster of snow intent on devouring them.
Can’t fall. No weakness, no mistakes. Focus on the schuss. Hold it tight. Hold it. He was winning. The rumble of the avalanche receding. Keep it going until there was no sound and then some more. Keep going. It was done. It was over. Stillness.
Then, as they began to descend through a cloud and into a valley, next to each other, gracefully moving together as if in a wonderful dance, white peaks rising all around, feeling loose and free, nothing had ever been so beautiful. And he wanted to stay in this place forever and never leave, because even heaven could not be so perfect and so splendid a place as this.
Wispy clouds hanging in a sky so blue and crisp, it looked like a painting. Acrylic, the father thought. Pretty sure acrylic paints made all the colors more intense. So deep and bright, he had to squint against the light.
“Throw the ball.”
“I can hardly see you little man. The sun in my eyes.”
“C’mon, throw it,” the boy said and pounded his hand into his glove.
He blocked the glare with the edge of his left hand, wound up for a good throw and let it go. Too much force in that one. A high parabolic arc over his son’s head headed for the street.
The boy turned to run for it. On the edge of the father’s vision, a car coming down fast from the winding road that led down from the cul-de-sac up on the hill, moving too fast for this neighborhood filled with young children and dogs. His mind did a quick calculation: the boy, the ball, and the car would meet at the same spot in the street at the same moment.
The father squeezed the words out. “Stop. Stop. A car.”
The words felt like they were coming from someone else, like an echo at a distance, unconnected to and disembodied from the slowing time and events that were playing themselves out as though scripted and unchangeable, all leading to one nightmarish conclusion.
He ran through the thickness, “No. No.” The words echoed against unseen walls.
The ball rolled into the street. The car and his little boy. Had to make it there first but it was too far, too late, and the script had something else in mind.
Then, the inexplicable. A sudden break in the fabric of time and events. The car stopped like it had hit a wall.
“You don’t run into the street after a ball. You don’t do that. Forget about the damn ball.” He was surprised he could yell. Felt like it was not him at all. Try to act normal. Try not to show the fear. Had to have control. Act like a father.
“It’s okay Dad.”
“No. It’s not okay. Go back there and wait for me.”
The father went over to the passenger side of the car, leaned over and looked in the window. The fat faced man didn’t look at him. He was looking at something else, something maybe only he could see, staring straight ahead.
The father said, “Good you were able to stop in time. Sorry about that. I’ll make sure he doesn’t do that again. Gotta talk to him. But you want to go a bit slower. Too many kids around here. This neighborhood. Too easy for something to happen. Something bad.”
Go easy on this guy, looks like he came close to having a heart attack. The man’s eyes were wide, unfocused, his face drained. And then the father heard what sounded like spinning wheels, a whirring engine. The man shook his head as if he was coming back, back to this world. He looked down and jammed his foot on the brake. The car seemed to sink, just a bit, as though it had been floating in the air, the wheels squealed to a stop as they hit the pavement. But that was impossible and the mind filtered the impossible. Sweat ran down into the man’s eyes but he sat unmoving and stared at nothing.
The ventilation in the smoky kitchen wasn’t all that good and Mrs. Finklestein stood at the stove waving the smoke away from her face. She had a special recipe for apple strudel and she smiled to herself as she thought about it. She had burned the last batch of butter and was being more careful this time. She kept the heat on low and stirred the melted butter in the frying pan. She took the cored apples from the refrigerator and placed them on the countertop near the stove. Last night was apple coring time. Mr. Finklestein wouldn’t help. The thought pushed to the front of her mind.
“Why don’t you help?”
He said, “I don’t help.”
“I eat, I don’t cook.” Portly Mr. Finklestein sat in a nearby chair in a robe and socks with his feet propped up on a very stuffed hassock.
“You are good at eating.” Mrs. Finklestein smiled while she sliced up the apples, “But you could at least help.”
“I don’t help. I just eat.” He straightened the newspaper and cleared his throat.
Mrs. Finklestein combined the apples, raisins, cinnamon, sugar and the other ingredients into a big bowl. She pushed her glasses up her nose, stirred, and said, “You’re too fat.”
He put the paper in his lap. “I’m fat?”
“I’m not fat.”
“Yes you are.”
“I’m not fat.”
“You are fat.”
He shook his head, “It’s your fault if I’m fat.”
“Why my fault?”
“You make the strudel.”
“You eat it.”
“You make it.”
“You eat it.”
“I eat it because you make it.”
“You don’t have to eat it. Not so much. It makes you fat.”
“Don’t make it and I won’t eat it,” He turned the page.
“What? You have no willpower?”
“I have willpower,” he said while fixing his glasses.”
“You have no willpower.”
“I have willpower.”
Mr. Finklestein sighed. “When will the strudel be done?”
“It’ll be done when it’ll be done.”
“Do we have any from yesterday?”
“No. All gone. You had no willpower yesterday.”
“I had willpower.”
“If you had willpower, there would still be apple strudel from yesterday.”
Mr. Finklestein sighed again and ruffled the paper as he would do when frustration was winning its battle. After a period of silence, he said, “Can I eat the dough?”
“You can wait.”
“I don’t want to wait. The dough is good.”
“Why should I wait?”
“To show willpower,” said Mrs. Finklestein.
“Why show willpower? Who is looking at the willpower? Dough is better than willpower.”
“You’ll show willpower.”
He shook his head and went back to reading the newspaper.
She eyed him from the side to make sure he wasn’t looking. She liked the cozy and warm atmosphere the making of apple strudel created. The smoky kitchen, the smoky living room that was essentially the same room as the kitchen as in many Manhattan apartments, Mr. Finklestein reading the paper, she sneaking in her secret ingredient. She crushed the little blue pills while making sure Mr. Finklestein did not see. She poured the crushed pills into the large bowl and mixed it all in together with the other ingredients. Forget willpower, Mr. Finklestein loved apple strudel.
Paul pulled the car up onto a small hill with a clear view of the horizon. The light had gone out of the sky and the stars were brilliant in the moonless night. They got out and walked over to a large flat boulder, a comfortable vantage point for viewing and for stretching out.
“Now let’s see. We’ve got to get oriented.” He flattened the star map down in front of them on the rock. “Here we go, this is it,” he pointed to the map and then to the sky.
“Where?” Danny said.
“You have to use your imagination. The constellations are sort of filled in pictures that help recognize star formations.”
“Okay. Where is it Dad?”
“That’s Sagittarius over there. You see that tree in the distance? That way,” he pointed.
“Well, just look right above it. Now see those stars up there? Compare them to the star map.”
“Oh. I see. This is that one over there,” Danny pointed.
“Right. And if you use your imagination, you can see the man. He’s a great warrior. Holding a bow. Sometimes people imagine his lower body to be that of a horse.”
“Like in this picture?” Danny pointed to the star map.
“I think I see him Dad.”
“Now look at the direction he’s looking in. That’s the direction of the galactic center.”
“I see it.”
“And you know what else it is?”
Danny smiled and nodded.
“That’s where I’m from little guy. In that direction. About 5,000 light years from the center. The Zygorian Empire.”
“Tell me something,” Whitey said.
“What the hell does Rill of Death mean?”
Bull turned now and looked at Whitey, his eyes glazed as though in a trance, repeating a memorized script. “A rill is a small stream. It runs unseen, unnoticed as it works its way slowly and carefully along the ground. Whereas a big river would be noticed and maybe damned up, no one notices the little stream. But the stream is poisoned to those who should drink of it. It can’t be stopped, just keeps going, it’s the Rill of Death.”
Sounded like preaching to Whitey. He only understood that they were fighting back now. It was a war. It was a secret war. They were fighting the vermin. It all made sense the way the Reverend told it. In the beginning, the men who went to the meetings had all been separate, struggling alone, alone against the vermin, surrounded and fighting losing battles.
The Reverend had organized them, had defined the enemy. Now they came together, learned that they were united in their sameness, learned that they were all of the same ilk. They had a common group identity and nothing was more important than the group. They had been raped, abused, their rightful place in the world stolen by the vermin. But now they were organized, under the guidance of the Reverend. And anyone outside of that group was the enemy. The vermin.
“My point of view is simply to do what is right for the Zygorian Empire,” Gero said.
“Yes. That’s my point of view too. But the Zygorian Empire consists of a great diversity, and humans can become part of that diversity. Look around you,” Doz waved his hand at the cavernous room with distant walls and high ceiling, an area large enough to accommodate the many types and sizes of intelligent life which made up the crew and now filled the area with busy movement.
There were those that walked upright like humans, using their handhelds to program the ship’s systems. And there were translucent creatures that slithered on their bellies, leaving a slime slick that would be quickly absorbed by the craft’s floors and walls. They had optically sensitive bodies, and were essentially intelligent crawling eyes.
Some crewmembers were shaped like flexible balls that could roll about with the help of millions of tiny legs that covered their surfaces. When not rolling, a myriad of arms with web like fingers extended from their bodies enabling them to do work.
There were gas creatures that hung suspended in the air and were best at extravehicular repairs because they could fit into any twisted space of any configuration.
And there were the small flying creatures that resembled the smaller yellow and black swallowtail butterflies of the Earth, gently flapping, floating, and holding communication devices so small that they were invisible unless seen up close. There was no end to the diversity of intelligent life that had been discovered during the galactic roaming of the Zygors.