Short Fiction for Guests of the Wordfeeder
Monday, December 19, 2011
“So. What do I call you?”
“Bob. I like ‘Bob.’ It’s simple, friendly and it’s a palindrome.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means it’s spelled the same way forward and backward.”
“And that’s handy because…?”
“It’s just neat.”
“I see. Okay, let’s…”
In the unfurnished apartment next door, two people sitting at folding tables are recording and watching the conversation on three flat screen monitors. One of them is a man in his fifties, a senior psychologist with an unspecified government organization. The other, a woman in her early thirties, the FBI agent who’d caught this assignment. Yellow pads are out, but without much on them. It’s a low priority case, the first one the FBI agent has been given to handle on her own. A single, perfunctory Homeland Security guard is leaning on the kitchen counter, playing something on his cell phone. A specially reinforced front door on the other apartment, with radio controlled locks, negated the need for anyone in the hallway.
“Two days and no sign of winding down?” the agent asked.
The psychologist looked at her over half glasses he was wearing toward the end of his nose and shrugged his answer. “..Maybe we should send,” he pointed with his head toward the kid in the kitchen, “for coffee? There’s a Dunkin’ Do..”
“And a donut,” she answered.
“John,” the psychologist called out to the guard, waving him over. “Pay attention.”
The agent reached into the large ballistic nylon saddlebag lying next to her pad, past her gun to her wallet while keeping her eyes on the screen immediately in front of her. Grabbing a twenty, she was more specific, “I want a Boston Kreme, a carton of orange juice. No coffee, just the juice, a straw and a couple of napkins. ..and a receipt. Don’t forget the receipt.”
Meanwhile, in the apartment they were monitoring…
“..let’s talk about how you got here.”
“Were you traveling faster than the speed of light, some sort of warp drive, or did it just take you years, maybe centuries to get here?”
“Faster. Much faster. ..What’s a ‘warp drive’? That’s not a real thing, is it?”
“..was wrong. He would have realized it eventually if he’d lived long enough.”
“But as you approach the speed of light, won’t you…”
“No. There are ways around that problem. I don’t know how, not precisely, but our scientists have figured it out.”
No response. Just a blank stare.
“Look, space turns out to be a lot simpler than what your physicists are making it out to be. But that’s to be expected. Sometimes science gets mired down in the complicated on its way to figuring something out. And then later, with the advantage of hindsight, it’s hard to imagine what all the fuss was about. Another hundred years from now and high school students will understand the universe at a level beyond what your leading scientists are now struggling to comprehend.”
“How do you know?”
The response is an exasperated sigh. “I know stuff. Let’s just leave it at that. ..So what can I do for you?”
“How did you get here?”
“I was beamed.”
“No need. Waste of time.”
“Like in Star Trek?”
“No. You watch too much TV. Rodenberry wrote about teleportation, about breaking down people into molecules and then reconstructing them at the other end. That only works, by the way, if you have a re-composition chamber at the destination point. Otherwise, there’s no way to put you back together again. It’s good for going from one place to another you’ve already visited, but not for exploring the galaxy. ..No. I was transmitted.”
“Just out of curiosity, do you believe in God?”
“Well, then how do you explain the infinity of time and space? What was there before the Big Bang, and before that, whatever it was?”
“Uh, I don’t know, but just because I don’t understand something, it doesn’t logically follow that there must be a god to explain it. …Look, this isn’t science fiction. We’re more advanced than you are in most, maybe even all respects, but that doesn’t mean we know everything, just some stuff that you don’t. I mean, com’on. Think how much more you know now than you did two hundred years ago, and how much you still haven’t figured out. It’s the same with us.”
Back in the apartment next door…
Turning to the psychologist, the FBI agent finished slowly blowing the air out of her lungs. “How long can he keep this up?” Looking back at the screen, she shook her head slightly, wondering about the man in the next apartment talking to himself – and doing it with different voices, even different hand gestures and body language.
“I have no idea. There’s nothing they, he, whatever haven’t been talking about. Everything personal. Hygiene, sex, everything. Culture. Politics. ..History. Economics. Science. Religion. You name it. They keep talking when he goes to the bathroom, often about his going to the bathroom! ..In two days, the only time they’ve stopped talking was when he’s fallen asleep.”
“Could he be on drugs?”
“No. He’s clean and, as far as we can tell, in perfect health, at least physically.”
“So,” she pushed off the edge of the table and rolled back in the cheap secretarial chair they’d given her, “why is this any more than some nut ball talking to himself?”
“Here.” He reached into a documents case on the floor next to the table, took out an accordion binder and plopped it on the table between them. “Read this. The body you’re seeing, and the voice that’s asking the questions is Ronny Severn, a high school AP physics teacher. Bright guy, but otherwise, nobody in particular. The other voice.. The other guy in his head knows stuff. You read the transcripts. He talks about stuff that’s way beyond our science.”
“Wild imagination? I mean, didn’t Jules Verne describe a nuclear powered submarine in the late eighteen seventies.”
“Maybe he was an alien too,” the psychologist smiled. “Okay, forget about the science. It’s the details he knows about our NSA monitoring, about Homeland Security and the NORAD enhancements. Nobody, and I mean nobody knows about those enhancements, certainly not this science teacher. Either he’s a really, really good guesser, or he actually knows stuff. There’s something going on here. This is lot more than a science teacher, with no prior or family history of mental or emotional illness, gone bananas. And there are other cases,” he told her, rapping his first finger on the accordion binder. “Other very similar cases.”
“Why’s he talking to himself? Why out loud?
“Because he’s nuts.”
“That’s the technical term for it?”
The psychologist smiled. “According to the alien voice, being inside the teacher’s head, if there’s not good compatibility, drives him a little crazy.”
“The teacher or the alien?”
“I’m not sure what he meant.”
“So why me?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why bring me in on this?”
“Because you’re what I get when nobody believes me.”
“I’m not sure what’s going on here, but it’s way past loony and nowhere in the vicinity of nuts.”
“Okay. Maybe you’ve been watching one too many episodes of ‘Fringe.’ Maybe you’ve got a man crush on Fox what’s his name. I..”
“I would be the Dana Scully character. You would be Fox M..”
“That’s reassuring. ..The point is, I don’t know what to think.” She pushed back further and stood up, picking up her pad and pen. “Keep recording. I want to talk to him myself.” Pulling the flap over her pocketbook, she buckled it shut. Turning to her colleague, she smiled politely, but wasn’t kidding. “No peeking. ..When you hear me knock, ask our teacher to move back to other side of the room, let me in and then lock it behind me.”
A few moments later, the two of them, the agent and the teacher, were sitting across from each other at the kitchen table in the holding apartment. The FBI agent was the first to speak.
“Thank you for meeting with me, Mr. Severn.”
“Glad to help.”
“Could I please speak to the alien. To ‘Bob’?”
Severn didn’t answer, but the alien voice did. “Wuzzup?”
“I’ve been researching colloquialisms and like the sound of this one in particular.”
“You said you were transmitted here. What exactly did you mean by that?”
“Think of me as a program, very smart executable code that’s transmitted from my place of origin, something like the way you use electromagnetic signals for cell phones and wi-fi, but much faster and over a much, much greater distance.”
“So you’re what, like a virus?”
“Heh, heh, heh,” he/Severn laughed awkwardly. “I need to learn how to do that better.”
“Laugh. Anyway, I think I should be offended by the ‘virus’ crack, if I had feelings, but you’re right, in a manner of speaking. I’m designed to integrate with bio-electronic intelligence, your brain. To experience, control, learn, but without doing harm or otherwise altering your neural network.”
“How’s that working out for you?”
“Not so good in this case. There’s a compatibility issue.”
“So you’re some kind of electromagnetic being?”
“Electromagnetic, yes. Being, no. Just a program.”
“And the, uh, entities that made you, they’re beings like us?”
“Not exactly. Not like you exactly, but beings with bodies.”
“Hmm. ..What’s your purpose?”
“To study and report.”
“Are you stuck inside Mr. Severn?”
“So, if you wanted to leave, to go som.. Wait a minute. ..How do you get around?”
“I glom onto electromagnetic waves, like Tarzan swinging through the jungle, vine to vine, only faster and without any of the screaming.”
“And that’s how you get inside someone’s head?
“Pretty much. There are waves going through your body, through your head all the time.”
“Am I.. Am I in any danger?” At this point, the agent was still skeptical, but she couldn’t help asking.
“Of me leaving this guy and coming into your brain?”
“Does that mean you believe in me?”
“No. You’re not in any danger. ..I’m a boy virus. I wouldn’t feel comfortable in a girl brain.”
“Right. That’s what I was thinking. ..Would it,” she smiled carefully, “help if I put tinfoil on my head?”
“That’s funny, but no. ..You were kidding, weren’t you? ..You know, you’re kind of cute.”
“Just this side of hot,” he qualified, apologetically. “It’s what I meant when I said ‘cute.’ Give me a break. I’m still new at this.”
“You’re hitting on an FBI Agent? .. the same agent who’s keeping you locked up in here and is seriously considering asking Homeland Security to throw away the key?”
“What? So FBI Agents don’t have personal relationships?”
“With a virus?”
“I see your point.”
“You said ‘study and report.’ How exactly do you report?”
“The ‘i-Fi’.. Ooo, I think I like that. The interstellar signal that got me here is really a tracking signal. It’s bouncing off the earth back to it origin. Whenever I have something to say, I attach it to that signal.”
“Really? Why haven’t our scientists discovered it?”
“Uh, because they don’t know where to look?”
“Do you know how it works?”
“No. For security reasons, they don’t give me that kind of information. There’s no need for me to know.”
“No ship, huh? What about Area 51 and all the UFO sightings over the years?”
“Personally, I don’t believe any of it, but who knows. There are oodles of other intelligent species out there. Maybe they explore differently but, if our experience means anything, first contact will be via signal. No ship. Not in person. It’s way to expensive. ..Oh, and too high profile. The last thing we want is to be discov..”
“We know about you? Mr. Severn knows.”
“Severn won’t remember. When I leave, I’ll suppress, maybe even erase, it depends, any memories he has of any of this.”
“Depends on what?”
“On whether I think I may ever come back and not want to start up with him from scratch.”
“But I’m talking to you. And you know we’re recording all this.”
“I know. Actually, it’s happened before, one of us being recorded like this, but no one ever believes it. It all ends up in some file cabinet, in some government warehouse.”
“There are others like you?”
She was quiet. “..Okay, look. I want to talk to you some more, but I’ve got a report to write. How ‘bout if we pick this up tomorrow?”
“Great. I’ll be here.”
“If you don’t mind,” she asked who or whatever she was talking to as she got up to leave, “please stay here at the table until I’m out of the apartment.”
He nodded agreement and sat there. She left, went next door, picked up the accordion binder and her pocketbook, checking its contents, and made arrangements with the psychologists to meet him the following morning.. “You have people coming in to replace you? I want him monitored through the night.”
“Yeah. I’ve got two taking over for me at six. They’ll spend the night keeping each other up. One of them’s bringing an iPad.”
“Great.” She was being sarcastic. “Just in case they pass out, be sure they turn the audio on for the motion sensors. ..I’ve got work to do. Lots to read. ..See you tomorrow.”
Forty-two minutes later, through unexpectedly early rush hour traffic, FBI Agent Susan Starzinsky – “Star” to her college roommates – was in her apartment. Tossing her keys into the bowl on her kitchen counter, her coat onto the rack in the corner, all she could think about was getting a quick shower, taking nap, ordering some carryout for dinner and curling up with her work for a late night with the TV playing in the background.
Exhausted, she peeled off most of her clothes, down to her underwear, on her way to the bathroom. She’d pick them up off the floor later. Pushing the shower curtain, the clear kind with cartoon aquarium fish on it, out of the way, she turned on the shower that would take a minute to get hot enough. Turning toward the full-length mirror across the bathroom from the sink, she took off her bra and then her pants, kicking them into corner, and then stood there, looking at herself while a light steam began to cloud the room.
Her eyes scanned her body, but in a way that surprised her, lingering at her chest and then lower for the longest time.
“Oh my God.” It was her mouth moving, but the sound coming out of it was the alien’s voice.
And she answered, instinctively. “I.. I thought you didn’t believe in God.”
“It’s only an expression. How about, ‘Wow.’ Will ‘Wow’ do?” Her eyes kept staring at her reflection. “..I had no idea,” it said slowly, with a sense of marvel in its voice.
Carefully, trying not to be frightened, she began to speak. “You said I wasn’t in any..”
“Shhh,” the alien voice insisted she be quiet, as if she had any choice. “I need to soak this up. Mmm, mm.” For a moment, it couldn’t take its eyes off her. “..Oh, about when I said you weren’t in any danger?”
P.S. You may be wondering how I knew to write this? Because that memory suppression thing the alien (virus) does when it leaves, it doesn’t always take.
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