What follows is a novelette I wrote about in 2008. It is the first science fiction piece I have ever written.
The voice was deep and compelling, “Revekah wake up.”
She twisted and mumbled in protest. The dream was too good to turn away from. She was making love to her husband. She could not remember seeing his face so clearly in a dream in years. She did not want to lose that picture in her mind again. He had been dead for so long. The dream was more intense and more real than any she could remember ever having before. It had been so long. She wanted this, no, she needed this.
“Revekah, wake up.”
As the dream wavered and faded, she wailed, “No!” When she woke she was sobbing in grief and frustration. She did not want to lose him again.
It took quite a while for her to realize she was not in her bed. It was too hard and there were no blankets. It was warm, very humid and there was the oddest smell, almost like the beach at low tide but there was also an acid, almost astringent quality to the air. When she opened her eyes it was dark, absolutely deepest pitch black dark. She tried to sit up but couldn’t. Something was holding her down. And miraculously nothing hurt. She could not remember the last time nothing hurt. “Who are you?”
The voice was deep and seemed to come from all directions. “Ah, yes. You will need to name me. You may call me Xeno.”
Carefully trying to move her body was fruitless. It was not just her arms and legs strapped down, or belts across her body. It was like she evenly glued to the firm surface underneath her body. She could not even move her fingers where they touched. Using her full strength she tried to break free but there was no loosening. To her relief she could wiggle her toes and move her lips and tongue. Revekah wondered why she was not more frightened. “Okay, Xeno, where am I?”
“You are far from any point of reference that would have any meaning for you.”
“Why am I tied down?”
“Tied? You are not tied down.”
“Why can’t I move?”
“Ah, yes. You are currently bonded to a horizontal surface to keep you from falling off.”
“Can you unbond me?”
“It is possible but would not be wise at this time.”
“How come I am not scared?”
“You are currently under the influence of a chemical that inhibits you from feeling that emotion.”
Inexplicably she began to giggle. “I guess that is a good thing, because this is fucking weird.”
“Yes, Revekah, I am sure you have not had any similar experiences to relate this one to. It is best if we discuss this while you are less likely to panic.”
“So are you going to tell me what is going on?”
“Yes, Revekah, currently you are on board an interstellar space craft. You have been taken from your home planet and are not going to return in the foreseeable future.”
“That’s crazy. I am old. I am so old, I am almost dead. Why on earth would you want an 86 year old woman?”
“Revekah, I am interested in your mind. You have a very lovely mind.”
Again she giggled, “Well, I knew it wasn’t my sexy good looks.” She had the random thought; at least that drug didn’t mess around with her sense of humor. “So, what now?”
“Do you have any more questions?”
“Are you some kind of alien?”
“I am a different species from a different star system. So that would make me an alien. Roughly translated my species is called Travelers because we have perfected interstellar travel.”
“Why is it so dark?”
“Currently no wavelengths of light that your visual system can process are being broadcast into the chamber you are in. The drug that blocks your fear is not without flaws. The instinct for self preservation in the human is very strong. Too much of the unfamiliar at once could potentially damage you.”
“Okay. You guys are lucky that I am not afraid of the dark.”
“Guys? Revekah, you and I are the only sentient beings on this starship. We will be the only ones on this ship for a very, very long time.”
Again she giggled the drunken giggle, “Xeno you don’t have all that much time. Like I said I am almost dead. I don’t have all that much longer to live.”
“Revekah, you will find you will live much longer than you ever anticipated.”
For the first time a strangely muted wave of dread shook through her. “What have you done to me?”
“I have made adjustments in your endocrine system to stop your aging. I introduced a variety of microscopic molecular repair bots into your body. They are currently repairing your degraded cells and systems. They are also implementing some necessary changes to your respiratory system so that you may tolerate my atmosphere requirements more easily.”
A wave of anger, mild but there, shook through her, “You mean I am not going to die?”
“Revekah, you will still be mortal. Your body can be killed. But you will not die of your body systems decaying due to the human aging process.”
“I could live forever?”
“Forever is a very long time, Revekah.”
“And I had just gotten used to the idea. I was kind of looking forward to it.”
“I am sorry, Revekah, I do not understand that last statement. What were you looking forward to?”
“Death, I was looking forward to dying. I was all excited to see if there was anything after I died.”
“What did you think was going to happen?”
“I didn’t know. That was the adventure. Was there life after death? Was there a going to be a heaven or a hell? All those questions were finally going to be answered. And if there was nothing, if it was true that there is only a loss of consciousness, then I wouldn’t be there to notice and be disappointed. I was ready to be done, ready to leave this old body behind.”
“Revekah, you are in the process of leaving that old body behind. And if it was adventure you were hoping for, then perhaps I have what you seek. Together we will see much of the universe.”
“That sounds like a marriage proposal.”
“In many ways, it is much, much more than a marriage proposal. I seek a partner. My species communicates telepathically. Your species has many unique qualities that make our partnership very beneficial to me. You experience things very intensely. And Revekah, your mind and senses are especially suited to communicate with me. Your memory is exceedingly sensory, you remember how things taste, sound, and feel much better than the average human.”
“Are you communicating telepathically with me now?”
“Revekah, it is the only way I can communicate. I do not have the physical anatomy to be able to make sounds.”
“Can you read my mind?”
“It is very complicated. I can hear your thoughts, but I cannot delve into your memories. I can feel the patterns and tones of how your mind functions, much like you experience music, but there is a visual element as well. Revekah, humans have a very strong connection to their physical being. It enhances how they think and how they feel. When I link with you I sense this. I wish to share this with you.”
“Will I always be like this, bonded to a table in the dark?”
“No Revekah, you will find that you will be free to move around the starship. I have every intention of making you as comfortable and as happy as possible. If you are not happy, it would make me unhappy.”
“What do you look like?”
“I am a bipedal, bilaterally symmetrical, terrestrial species. I have two legs and four limbs that you would call arms. One pair of arms is evolved for heavy lifting and gross motor tasks. The other pair is more suited for finer motor tasks. I am sure your specie’s accepted standards of beauty would classify me as quite ugly and most likely frightening.”
“Are you a male?”
“By your specie’s definitions of male and female, I would qualify as both. But I am not capable of reproduction. That portion of my biology has been deactivated.”
“What if I say no? What if I don’t want to do this?”
“Revekah, you have very little choice in this matter. I had hoped to have a willing partner, but if you are unwilling, it would only mean you will be spending a great deal of your time bonded to the horizontal surface. I cannot have you attempting to harm me, the ship or yourself. I have gone to a great deal of expense and time to acquire you.”
“And if I am a willing partner?”
“You will have all the same freedoms as I do. Most our time is on board this ship. Interstellar flight is very time consuming. It takes decades to travel from on start system to the next. Our mission is exploration and acquiring alien technologies and other trade goods. Beyond leaving this ship or halting our mission, you will have equal say in every other activity we engage in. I will not force you to do anything, but I hope that you will be interested in joining me in this adventure. That is one of the many things I found beautiful about your mind, your love of novelty and adventure.
“It just feels wrong to have this forced on me.”
“Revekah think of it like death. You were willing to face the unknown. You were willing to accept it as an inevitable fact and had come to welcome it. How much different is this? I came silently in the night and took you away from the life you knew. I carried you away into the heavens above.”
“Okay, so you are like an angel now?”
“Did you believe in angels?”
“No, not so much. Toward the end, I did not believe in much.” She paused and thought about that sentence. It sounded like she was already thinking like she had died.
“When will you turn on the lights?”
“First I want to speak to you about what you will see.”
“Will you be there?”
“No, not yet.”
“Okay, what is it that I will see.”
“This will not look like anything you have seen before. Our technology is more organic and fluid. You see colors on very different wavelengths than I do, so the colors will not be any you have seen before.”
“Now you have me curious.”
“Your curiosity is very sweet.”
“You are doing that thing you were talking about, linking with me to feel my feelings.”
“Very perceptive of you Revekah, I am impatient to share with you. I have been alone for a very long time. I will gradually introduce light in the wavelengths appropriate for your vision. Do not fear the unfamiliar. It is an adventure.”
Slowly the place she was in began to glow. It was like being in a fog of glittering glowing translucent particles. At first it felt like they were close enough to touch her, she found herself blinking reflexively as her eyes told her over and over again that something was too close. Xeno was right. It was a color, but she had no words to describe it.
“Okay this is weird. It’s like being in a snowstorm that doesn’t touch you. Will I be able to see anything other than these sparkles?”
“Soon your brain will be able to sort out the stimuli it needs to process information and will begin to disregard the extraneous. You are completely unaware of how much your brain was able to disregard in your own home world. Your own air is not as clear as you would like to think.”
“I am hungry.”
“Oh good, I have wanted to experience your eating.”
“Will there be food and cooking?”
“Food, yes, cooking will not be like you think. You will imagine as carefully as you can what it is you wish to eat. Remember exactly the appearance, flavors, temperatures and textures and share these memories or imaginings with me and I will interface with the ship to have this food synthesized. In many ways you will be able to be more creative than you ever could be before.”
Revekah thought for a while about this. All her life she had been creative, painting, sculpture, music, food, and endless little things. She would visualize this thing she wished to make and then work to try and make reality of it. Rarely could she exactly replicate the thing in her head but the new thing created had a unique and unexpected beauty all its own. She wondered how this would feel to visualize it and somehow just get it made, exactly. Was the imagining enough of the process?
“Okay, will you let me become unbounded from this table enough to feed myself?”
“It is not just a table.”
Revekah began to feel the table moving and changing shape around her. Soon she was sitting up in a semi reclined position. “Oh, this is better.”
“Before we do this eating thing, I will need to bring the food to you. You will need to imagine it and then I will bring it to you. Revekah, that will mean you will see me. At first it will be somewhat indistinct, blurred by your adjusting vision and only a portion of my anatomy, but you will see enough to possibly be alarmed.”
“Even with the drug?”
“Revekah, the drug has worn off. I do not wish to use it often. It creates a barrier to my being able to link with you. The process of talking to you while it wore off and suggesting to you that you could not become afraid was enough to insulate you from panic. Your mind is not prone to fear. You are too curious to be frightened of novelty for long.”
“If you say so.”
“I wish that it was possible to laugh telepathically. I appreciate your humor, but your act of laughing is not easily communicated through a link.”
“So you get my jokes?”
“Not all of them, I am sure. But as we become more familiar with each other and more deeply bonded I will begin to understand some of your more subtle ironies and jokes.”
“So humor is part of your world?”
“I have not been back to my world in a long time. But yes, my species uses a form of humor.”
“Xeno, I am still hungry.”
“What would you like to eat, Revekah? All you have to do is imagine it. At first you will find it hard to communicate exactly what it is you want and you may find the item served you may not be to your exact expectation. Close your eyes and think about a time you ate something. Lose yourself in that memory. Imagine it before you, look at it, smell it. Take a bite and think about how it feels in your mouth as you chew and swallow.”
She thought about the homemade ice cream her Mom used to make when she was a little girl. She could see the bowl and how it mounded rich and creamy white in the spoon as she scooped up an icy bite. The cold rich vanilla custard melted away in her mouth and made her head ache with its icy bite.
Xeno’s thoughts in her mind were rich and encouraging. “Yes, Revekah, I knew you would be excellent at this.”
The scintillating motes that filled the air around her swirled and eddied and Revekah blinked and peered, straining to see. Something was there moving, and to her surprise she realized it was something bigger than she expected. It loomed over her. “Revekah, you can move your arms and hands now. Something is going to touch your hand. It is the container of ice cream.”
She was distracted by the sensation of cold touching her hand and looked down, instinctively reaching for the exact same bowl with a spoon in it that she had seen in her mind. The ice cream looked just like she had imagined. Then she saw the damp gray surface of the thing holding the bowl. It looked slimy and had too many fingers, or maybe tentacles would be the more accurate description. Instinctively she jerked her hand back.
The bowl stayed still. Revekah looked at the arm that disappeared into the sparkling fog. It was about the size of a normal human sized arm but again it looked moist and had a disturbing gray color. “This is one of my fine motor arms. It is what I use to pick up and manipulate smaller items and touch things to sense their texture and chemical makeup. I promise you, Revekah, that never, in all the time we are together, will I cause you pain or injury.”
Revekah reached out a trembling had to take the bowl and as soon as she had it grasped, the ‘hand’ disappeared back into the fog. For the briefest of instants she felt a touch and shuddered in fear. Then she noticed the hand holding the bowl, her own hand. At first she did not recognize it. The fingers were not bent with arthritis, there were no age spots, but most amazing of all was the roundness, the smoothness of youth. “Oh my god, oh my god, my hands, they are…” She dropped the bowl of ice cream and it fell and slid off into the fog. She brought her hands up to her face and felt. The soft crepe skin seemed to cling closer to the bones of her face. She ran her hands down her body, feeling the firmer, smoother body of a young woman. “Xeno I am not old anymore.”
“It is part of the nano repair bots function. Like I communicated to you before, you are leaving your old body behind.”
“I dropped the ice cream. I am sorry.”
“Do not be distressed. What you dropped will be absorbed and recycled by the ship. I will get you another. Unless there is something else you would like to have. I rather enjoyed sharing with you your memory of ice cream.”
“Do I need to imagine it again?”
“For this ice cream, no. Once I communicate it to the ship, it will remember.”
This time when Xeno handed her the ice cream Revekah asked, “Could you keep your hand close enough to see? I want to look at it.”
After she took the bowl, she sat and stared closely at the strange six digit hand that moved up to be held in front of her face. There were four central boneless central ‘fingers’ with a slightly larger ‘thumb’ on either side. The inside looked textured, like terry cloth. Revekah had an odd thought, ‘really opposable thumbs’.
“It looks like it is slimy.”
“My species does exude a fluid from our skins. It is how we breathe. We exchange gasses through these fluids on our skin. It is moist but not sticky. Would you like to touch?”
A shiver of fear shook through her, “You mean like shake hands?”
“If you want.”
“I don’t think so. Not right now. I am sorry. I just can’t, not right now.”
“There is no hurry. We have nothing but time on our hands.”
When she laughed, Xeno commented, “You got my joke.”
“Yes, I did.”
Revekah took a bite of the ice cream and paused in shock. “It tastes just like I remember.”
She took another bite and closed her eyes, letting the ice cream melt in her mouth. It tasted wonderful. She could almost feel the summer heat on the back porch and hear the creak of the old porch swing.
Somehow she could sense Xeno there, sharing the moment with her. She wondered how this would feel, endlessly on display, never a moment of privacy, physical or mental.
When the bowl was empty she sat holding it awkwardly, “What should I do with this?”
“Just let it drop to the floor. The ship will recycle it.”
“Does your species eat?”
“Yes. But most of the chemical compounds that make up my diet would not be digestible to you, and some could be unhealthy for you to ingest. I could attempt to share with you what eating for me is like but at this time your brain has had enough novel things to learn how to process.”
“What if I have to go to bathroom?”
“Just excrete where you are. The ship will…”
“I know. I know… the ship will recycle it. You know that the whole idea that I am living inside a big sewage recycling plant is kind of gross? I hate the idea of pissing or shitting where I am sitting. It kind of freaks me out. I mean I will feel it on me. You talk about your species. Well my species has some very strong opinions of not shitting where we sit, damn it.” Her voice was getting loud and she could feel just the edges of hysteria beginning to leak in. She got a grip on herself. “Please, don’t make me shit here in this chair.”
“Do you feel the need to excrete at this time?”
A wild hysterical giggle rose up, “Um… no, but it is just a matter of time. Could you make me this?” She focused hard and imagined an antique china chamber pot that she had once owned.
“Yes, Revekah, I could make you that.”
“When I need to, um, excrete, could you make me one of those? I could use it and then you could take it away to some other place for the ship to recycle. It would help me a lot if you did that.”
“Yes, Revekah, thank you for your willingness to tell me what you need. I did study your culture but there is a large amount that I did not completely understand. It will help immeasurably if you assist me in understanding what you need to feel comfortable.”
Again she ran her hands down the length of her body. “Could I have some clothes?”
“I could make you clothing, but they would not last very long. The ship would start to recycle them in only a short while. Are you cold? I could adjust the temperature.”
“No I am not cold. I am just feeling naked. In my culture naked means vulnerable. It is easier to feel safe and confident if I could have something to wear.”
“That would be difficult. My culture does not use inanimate objects. The ship regards any inanimate object as something to be recycled.”
“So the ship is alive?”
“Very much alive.”
“And you communicate with it, like you communicate with me.”
“I use the same portions of my nervous system to do it. But the ship is not sentient. It is not the same experience.”
Revekah felt a wave of exhaustion. “I feel so tired all of a sudden.”
“The adjustment takes a great deal of your energy. It is normal to feel fatigued. You are experiencing extreme amounts of stress; mental, emotional and physical. Would you like to have your support surface horizontal or continue in a reclined position?”
Flat, but please don’t bond my arms down.” As the surface became horizontal, she asked, “Could you make it a little softer please?” And as the surface became more yielding she laughed, “It’s an adjustable mattress.” Her voice was foggy and fading into sleep when she asked one last question.
“Do you sleep?”
“No, Revekah, we do not sleep.”
A random thought drifted through her exhausted mind, ‘then you don’t dream’. But she was to for gone to speak out loud.
His answer was prompt, “Dreams seem to be a human characteristic.”
Sleepily she thought, ‘get out of my head’.
Again her dreams were rich in detail and seemed to go on forever. People long dead drifted through her thoughts. Her mother looked at her and spoke, “Where are you going?”
“I am sorry, momma, I am going far away. I don’t know if I will ever come back.”
Her first husband, a kind hearted man who could not resist being kind to a long list of ‘other’ women, loomed close, leering. “Looking good, Revekah, have you been exercising?” She shook her head wordlessly, and then looked down at her body and realized she was nude.
Revekah pushed through what seemed throngs of strange people. Most of them took no notice of her unclothed state, but some looked offended and others reached out and tried to grab her. As she hurried through, dodging judgmental eyes and too familiar hands, she found herself looking, trying to find someone she knew. The harder she tried to look the more difficult it became to see, the air filling up with the sparkling nimbus of the space ship.
Revekah became aware of a thought that if she did not hurry, the ship was going to take off and she would be trapped on board. She did not want to go. She wanted to go home. She began to feel panicky, calling out, “Wait! Let me off. I don’t have a ticket.”
Suddenly she crashed into Geoff, her beloved Geoff. She wrapped her arms around him, sobbing in relief and joy to see him one more time, “Geoff, we have to get off. The ship is going to take off.”
He looked at her and shook his head, “Revekah, it is too late. We have already left the planet.” Then he pulled her close and began to kiss her, his hands working their magic on her body like they always could. She felt herself almost instantly responding, oblivious to the people standing around them.
“Revekah wake up.” Xeno’s voice cut her dream to ribbons.
A soft sob of protest broke her lips and she whispered his name, “Geoff.” Her body tingled with need, a dull sweet ache murmured in her center.
Revekah was disoriented. Again it was dark. She tried to sit up but only her arms were free. Taking a moment, she began to feel around the edge of what she thought of as a table. It was not a table; the sides were solid and felt oddly resilient and moist. She realized that she was actually lying on the ship itself. Her skin crawled as she thought how Xeno had told her that the ship was a living thing. She told herself that he had said it was not sentient, but she wondered how smart it was. Was it like a dog or a cat? Or was it just a huge protoplasm without any self awareness. She wondered if it could feel her touching it.
“Rebecca, are you awake?”
“Would you like to have light?”
“Yes please, and can I sit back up again?”
Again she found herself surrounded by a nimbus of glittering particles. “How long will it take until I can see?”
“There is no way to know precisely. Your brain has the necessary plasticity to adjust but it will take time.”
“Will I have to be bonded to this surface until I can see?”
“No, Revekah, but you will need to be able to tolerate my touch so that I may assist you as you move around.”
She wanted to change the subject from being touched by those hands, “Is the ship very big?”
“The external measurements of this ship would be deemed quite large by your species but the internal living quarters is not large, perhaps the size of the structure you inhabited when I collected you.”
Revekah grimaced. She had been living in an eight by thirty trailer in an elderly community trailer court in southern California. “That’s not very big.”
“If you find we need more space to be comfortable, I can have the ship grow us more chambers. It is time consuming, though.”
“No need for that now, maybe later when I can see.”
“If you wish.”
“You know what I wish for right now? I wish for this.” Revekah focused and imagined a big cup of hot coffee, with a shot of rum in it and whipped cream on top. She wondered if she imagined alcohol carefully enough if she could get a little tipsy.
“You will find the intoxicating effects of ethanol to be short lived. The nano bots will detect it as a poison and break it down into a more benign compound.”
“Will they do the same for caffeine?”
“Any foreign substance that will impair the normal function of your body will be rendered neutral.”
“Is the ingestion of intoxicants necessary for your happiness?”
“No, not necessary, now I bet you are going to tell me I can’t have sex.”
“Oh to the contrary, I am very much looking forward to having sex with you.”
Revekah froze on the table, instantly aware of her naked state and tried to cover herself with her hands. A tiny whimper of terror rose up in her throat. “You… you… want to have sex?”
“I have frightened you. I am sorry. It is my nature to answer questions directly. I did not realize you were joking. Please, Revekah, remember I will not hurt you, ever. I will not force you to do anything you do not want to do. I understand it may take years for you to feel comfortable enough just to touch me. But it took me several hundred years to come and get you. It will take at least another sixty to get to the next star system. We have time. I am confident after ten or so years you will become very comfortable around me. I will wait.”
“Could we do it? Do you even have the parts?”
“Do you mean do I have an appendage that would function as a male penis?”
“Um, yeah, that.”
“No, but I do have very nimble digits; and I also have a very long prehensile tongue. If you require an appendage that would be an analog for the human male penis, you could imagine it and I could make it for your use.”
“I am sorry, Revekah. You have asked me another question without references. Why would I make you an analog penis? Or perhaps you were asking why you would require one?”
“No, why do you want to have sex with me. You can’t find me anymore attractive than I do you.”
“Revekah, my species does not look at the exterior as much as yours does. I find your mind exceedingly beautiful. I enjoy sharing experiences with you telepathically. I very much savored the ice cream when you imagined it and while you ingested it. The human species is unique in its capacity to feel extreme amounts of pleasure when performing its mating act, especially the human female. That is the primary reason why I chose a member of your species as a ship partner. I wish to share that pleasure with you.”
“Don’t you feel pleasure when performing the mating act?” Revekah felt a little squeamish to be discussing sexuality with an alien she had not even seen. She found herself retreating into his precise clinical vernacular. She also realized she was instantly beginning to identify Xeno as male, now that he had so openly stated his interest in having sex with her.
“My species feels compelled, even driven to reproduce. But do we experience pleasure while mating? No, not at all, in fact it is very painful. The human orgasm is perhaps one of the most powerful pleasurable sensations our species has found. Humans are in great demand on our planet. Only a few have made the journey and they have become immensely rich marketing the chance to share pleasure with them.”
Revekah began to laugh, “Oh my god, intergalactic whores, that is too funny.”
“I do not understand that joke. Perhaps you could explain.”
“I don’t know. Just the idea of becoming practically immortal, traveling for lifetimes across intergalactic space just to sell your body to a bunch of aliens just seems way beyond funny.”
“I have traveled lifetimes to find you.”
Instantly sobered by the poignant tone in Xeno’s communication, Revekah stopped laughing. “Is it that important to you? Is sharing my sexual pleasure worth all this?”
“Isn’t it for you?”
Revekah thought about it, “I guess I have been old for too long. I remember a time when I was young that it seemed important.”
“Your body is young again, now.”
“I think that being abducted by horny space aliens has kind of put a damper on things.” Revekah wondered if she would ever be in the mood now. It was beyond imagining and every fiber of her being was trying not to dissolve into mass of screaming hysteria. She forced her mind away from frightening images and back to the coffee. “I think this conversation started with coffee. Could we try again and please never talk to me about sex again.”
“Never is a very long time, Revekah. But I will comply with your requests.”
It seemed like this time, when ‘he’ handed the coffee, it seemed to Revekah like she could see further up his arm and there was a definite impression of another larger limb or two moving in and out of the swirling clouds. As she took a swallow of the coffee, she blinked and strained to see more. “Revekah, straining to see will not significantly increase the rate of your visual cortex’s adjustment.”
After she drained the cup and let it slip forgotten from her fingers, Revekah asked, “Could you move closer?” Her voice tensed, “Just don’t touch me. I just want to see more.”
“I will move closer soon. First I will describe the portion of my anatomy you would refer to as a head and face. I do have a ‘head’. It is the location of my ‘eyes’. I do not have hair but my species does have decorative frills that start at the top of the head and then continue down my dorsal side. I have a ‘mouth’ but it is not located on the portion of my anatomy you would identify as a head. It is located ventrally in my torso. I look very different than any species you have seen before.”
“That sounds like an understatement. What if I start screaming?”
“I will back away if my proximity creates too much emotional stress. Are you prepared for me to move closer so that you may observe your reactions?”
“Almost, but don’t touch me.”
“I will not touch you until you agree to that contact.”
A movement in the swirling air made Revekah start and instinctively jerk to move back. Again she was very conscious of not being able to move. “Xeno, could you unbond my whole body? Somehow being unable to move seems to be freaking me out. Is there a way you could, um, put rails on this bed thing?”
Revekah focused and pictured the rails that were on Geoff’s bed at the hospital those last weeks before he died. The pain medication made him confused and he tended to try to get up, stating he wanted to go smoke. He had quit smoking years before. She realized she was distracted and focused more on the railings.
“I could do that. Pull your arms close to your side.”
The narrow reclined surface slowly changed shape, low ridges along the sides growing taller until they were about eight inches tall.
Revekah pushed on the low barrier. If felt very strong but with a padded resilient surface. “Good, now I can’t fall out. Could you let my body free? I promise not to run away. Where would I go?”
“Sometimes panic can lead an individual to perform irrational acts.”
“Then I guess you will need to catch me.”
“If you attempt to evade me and move away, do I have your permission to retrieve you and put you back?”
Her voice was reluctant, “Yes, I just am getting very tired of being fastened down.”
“Agreed.” Revekah found herself able to move freely and she experimentally flexed her legs and then curled them up underneath her hips.
“Okay, move closer.”
He had described himself pretty accurately but it did little to sooth the shock and instant wave of fear. Revekah shrank into a ball, pulling her knees up to her chest and had to fight the impulse to scoot back. He had massive shoulders, at least twice as wide as a normal human male. Two massive arms, the size of a steroid freak muscle builder’s, hung down at his sides and two more, smaller arms attached more toward the front. The hands on the end of the arms hung down, disappearing into the swirling sparkles There was a dome shaped ‘head’ without any kind of neck, that rose up from the top of his body. Revekah could see a lot of complex textured ridges and bumps on the head. He was very tall, Revekah was not sure how far of the floor the ‘bed’ was but he loomed tall over her.
“Could you duck down a little? You are towering over me. It makes it a little scary.”
Slowly he lowered so that his ‘head’ was almost level with hers. “Revekah, you are maintaining your calm very well. You are communicating very well about what you need to remain calm.”
“Just don’t touch me.”
“I will not touch you.”
She looked curiously at his head. She could see a row of large, surprisingly round eyes that seemed to be evenly spaced all the way around his ‘head’. They were featureless black, without eyelids. Revekah had an idle thought, “Eyes in the back of his head. I guess you need that if you have no neck.”
Xeno slowly turned around and she saw that the eyes did not completely reach the back of the dome she was starting to call his head. A series of parallel ridges ran from the top of his head and down the center of his back. As she watched the ridges began to grow and then looking closer, she realized they were sort of unrolling into soft waving fins. The only thing she could think of, that looked anything like it, were the soft trailing fins of some exotic fish. Soon they were standing up across the top of his head in sort of crest that ran down his neck and back. They were not the gray color of the rest of his skin. They were all kinds of colors, some she knew, like pinks, greens and yellows, but many other ‘new’ colors were there. As Revekah watched the hues seemed to flow and change, rippling along the length of the softly waving crest.
“That is kind of pretty.”
“Thank you. In my species, our frills are considered an important part of our physical attractiveness. I am pleased that you like mine.”
Unconsciously Revekah’s hand reached up and touched her own head; she was startled to find her head smooth as a billiard ball. “Oh my god, where is my hair?”
“Ah yes, your frill, that was unfortunate. I neglected to inform the ship that your hair is an important part of your anatomy, like your outer layer of skin. While the cells may no longer be living, that it is still part of your integral being. Ship should stop recycling your hair.”
“Fucking son of a bitch, I mean it wasn’t much, totally white and thin, but it was my hair.”
“We have plenty of time. It will grow back and it will be the hair of your youth. Remember that you are leaving that old body behind. Would it make you feel less upset if I told you that I find the lack of hair to have little bearing on how attractive I find you?”
Absent mindedly she muttered, “It was red. I was a red head.” Xeno had turned to face her again and she was looking curiously down his chest. “Where is your mouth?”
“On my torso, between my arms, before I open it I must warn you that I do have teeth. Not like yours, more like a sharks. I also have a rather long tongue.”
“Do you bite?”
“Is this humor, Revekah?”
“If I don’t make jokes, I might just crawl off the back of this thing you call a horizontal surface.”
“I understand. No, Revekah, I do not bite,” the voice in her head paused for a beat and then added, “I only nibble.”
Revekah shrank back and then squawked in sudden laughter. Waves of uncontrollable giggles shook her and she had to hang onto the sides of the bed. It took a long time to calm down. She knew that the joke was not that funny but she was so tense that it seemed that once she started laughing she could not stop until she was drained. She wiped her eyes. “Oh god, I needed that. Thank you.”
“It was a pleasure to share that experience with you. I am going to open my mouth now. Fear of teeth is a primal fear of many species.” A wide horizontal opening spread open and Revekah could see rows of teeth, small and triangular along the edges. A surprisingly pink snake seemed to writhe behind the forbidding rows of fangs. Slowly the tongue began to crawl out of his mouth and Revekah, squeaked and whimpered, “Don’t stick it out. Close your mouth. Close it now. Please.” She covered her face with her hands and tried to control her breathing.
“Revekah, my mouth is closed. I will not open it again in your presence until you feel you are ready to look again.”
“I am so sorry. It was not the teeth. It was the tongue. It scared the hell out of me.”
“I had not anticipated that.”
“Neither did I. Maybe it was because it was pink like a human’s. And then it was like a snake. Snakes scare the shit out of me.”
“Our tongues are used primarily for the transport of food into our mouths. I will not consume food around you.”
Revekah peeked out from between her fingers. She could feel her heart racing. “Xeno could you please make…” She focused her mind on the chamber pot again. “I need it.” When he returned with the pot, she pointed at the foot of the bed. “Put it there and go out of the room.”
“Revekah, you must not move around the room without me.”
“I know. I will just use the pot up here on the surface. I will call you when I am done. I just can’t do it, excrete, while you are here. I need to at least have the illusion of being alone.”
It was awkward, positioning herself over the replica of an antique chamber pot, but Revekah had been putting off her need long enough that it was a huge relief. Realizing she had forgotten to ask for anything to wipe with and she squirmed in discomfort. “Xeno, please come back.”
His voice filled her head, “I was not far, Revekah.”
“Please take it away. Xeno does your species bathe?”
“We do not immerse our bodies in fluid in order clean ourselves. But we do immerse our bodies in fluid to condition our skins.”
“I feel dirty.”
“That is not possible. Revekah, the ship has been so thorough in keeping you clean that it has recycled all the hair on your body.”
“I don’t care. I feel dirty!” Her voice was getting louder.
“Revekah, what is it you want me to do?”
“I want to take a bath.” She could hear the stubborn, irrational tone in her voice. She could tell she was close to cracking. “Please.” A tiny sob bubbled up, and then another. She pulled herself into a fetal ball and wept.
“Would you like to immerse your body in fluid?”
“I can guide you to another chamber that used for that purpose. The fluid is ninety-five percent water. The other five percent is a mixture of various chemicals that help promote the process of gas exchange through my skin. They are benign to human skin, though you might find them to be slightly stimulating to any sensitive membranes.”
A wave of dread shook through her, chilling the sobs and making her shrink into a smaller ball. Again the prospect of being touched by those alien hands was too much to envision. “I can’t.”
“Talk about what you are afraid of, Revekah.”
“I don’t know. It just seems horrible somehow.”
“Your fingers have brushed mine once and nothing bad happened.”
“That was an accident and it freaked me out.”
“But did anything bad happen?”
“No.” Her voice was stubborn and unconvinced. “I just have this horrible feeling that somehow you will grab me, that I will end up all wrapped up somehow and squeezed like a boa constrictor had me.” The words all came out in a rush.
“Revekah, are you using humor?”
Her answer was a wail of terror and frustration, “No!”
“Revekah, you know that if I had that intention, there would be nothing to stop me from following through on that. I have had endless opportunities to do just that. I have made a promise to you that you will never have to do anything you don’t want to do. I have made a promise that I will never hurt you. My species is incapable of falsehoods. I cannot lie to you.”
The unbidden thought came to her mind, “What if he is lying about that?”
“Revekah, you will just have to give it time. When you are ready to trust me then you will be able to bear the sensation of my hands touching yours.”
“Are you cold?”
“Revekah, I am not sure what your frame of reference for that question is. The temperature in this chamber is comfortable for me. Do you need the temperature adjusted?”
“No, not that, does your skin feel cold?”
“Oh no, my body temperature is slightly higher than yours. My skin would feel warm or even hot in comparison to yours.”
“It looks like it would be cold, like a frog’s.”
“Beyond semi-permeable skin, my species has very little in common with the amphibians of your planet.”
“Your species has very little in common with anything I have ever seen before.” Revekah forced her body to relax and lay back. She blinked and looked around. It seemed like she could look down the length of her body almost to her waist. She stared curiously at the small firm breasts on her chest. Her nipples looked small and virginal. She experimentally gave her chest a small shimmy and could not help but grin as her breasts jiggled in response. She had forgotten her breasts ever looked like that. “This is going to take some getting used to. Everything is different. I don’t even recognize myself. Is there something like a mirror around here?”
“In the same room with the immersion pool is a reflective surface. I use it to preen my frills.”
“Again with the touching, I just can’t let you pick me up.”
“Revekah, you do not need to be carried. All you need to do is allow me to guide you. It would be nothing more than a gentle touch on the arm or shoulder. The only time I would touch you with any force is if you panic, attempt to escape and begin to run blindly around the ship.”
“How far is this surface from the floor?”
“It is about the distance from your hips to your feet.” Revekah slid down to the foot of the table and hung her feet off the edge. “Do not dismount from the table, Revekah. The surface that you will descend upon is not what you expect. It is neither flat nor firm.” Xeno loomed out of the mist and she could not help but yelp in surprise and scramble to the far end of the table.
“Don’t appear like that, so close to me, without a warning.”
“I am sorry. I was fearful you were going to try and get down off the table.”
“I get it. Just don’t rush at me like that. No sudden movements and do not touch me.”
“If you are going to get down off the table, I will need to guide you.”
“I know, just, um… okay, let’s try this. You come over closer to the foot of the table and just stand there, don’t move, okay?”
“I am still standing where I was, Revekah.”
“Good.” She cautiously slipped down to the foot and looked up at him. “Can you crouch down a little again?”
Once he was lower, she reached out a visibly shaking finger and tentatively touched the skin on one of his larger arms. His skin was hot to the touch and damp. Her mind spun back to when she touched Geoff’s skin in the hospital. He had been running a high fever and his skin was slick with sweat. Curiously she pressed a little, his flesh was firm and there was obviously a bone or something like that, that ran through the limb. “Did that hurt?”
“No, Revekah, it did not hurt. In fact I do not have a large number of pain or other sensory receptors in that portion of my anatomy. I can feel pressure and temperature there, but little else. I have extensive sensory receptors in the hands of my smaller arms, in my tongue, and in my frills.”
“So if I hang onto your arm and we walk, you would only need to initiate touch if I fall or try to run away?”
“I think it will be easier if I do the touching and we just walk really slowly.”
“The surface you will be walking on is irregular.”
“Let’s just try standing.”
“It will feel yielding and wet.”
“Oh nice, I should have figured you for living in a swamp.”
“My species did in fact evolve in a very water rich environment.”
“Okay, I am going to keep my hands on your, um, bigger arm here and get down off the table now. I am just going to stand still. You just stand really, really still. Remember no sudden movements.”
“I will be still. Revekah, you are being very brave. I am proud of you.”
“No so brave. You still scare the hell out of me.” Revekah rolled over onto her stomach and let her legs dangle down, reaching and feeling with her toes. She felt a warm, wet surface. It was very uneven and felt like a pile of hoses or perhaps ropes. “One hell of a shag carpet you have here.” As she let her weight settle onto her feet she felt them sink in and sort of slip through the stuff until she was in over her ankles. A soft shudder ran through her. “This feels kind of gross.” Then something moved under her feet and snaked along one ankle. She shrieked and clawed her way back up onto the table, pulling her feet up, and peering over the edge, trying to see through the sparkles. “What the fuck was that!”
“That was just the floor.”
“It was moving. I felt something crawling around down there!”
“The ship is a living thing. That was most likely part of the recycling system. I am so used to it that I no longer notice.”
Revekah’s heart was racing. “I will never get used to that. It’s like walking around in a vat of eels.” She shuddered and continued to peer apprehensively down. “They won’t crawl up here will they?”
“Revekah it is a single entity. It is the ship. It is not a ‘they’.”
“Like that makes any fucking difference. Xeno, this is like your tongue times a thousand. That is too freaking weird, too snaky, and way, way too slimy.”
“Revekah the only other alternative is for you to spend a very, very long time sitting on you elevated surface. The nano bots will keep your body from atrophying but your mind will not tolerate the confinement more than a few decades. I would regret losing your mind.”
“Tell me about the ship. You say it is a single entity, a living thing. You say it is not sentient but then you talk like you talk to it. Exactly what is it?”
“In many ways the ship is about as self aware as the jelly fish on your planet. It even looks like a jelly fish. It feeds on certain wavelengths of radiation, much like a plant does on your planet, but it uses this radiation much like a sail to move across interstellar distances. It is very slow to accelerate and decelerate, but can achieve speeds much greater than light speed. My species could not travel at those speeds until we discovered this new interstellar species. We genetically altered them, adding some things, removing others. The matter conversion systems and the raw data storage are from other species. Gravity generation is mostly due to the rotation of the ship. The ship itself is able to travel and steer itself, but it takes a certain amount of encouragement to get it to go where you want it to go. I can encourage it to grow new chambers for our use but there is a limit to this. It takes a great deal of energy to travel long distances. The ship feeds very infrequently but has huge energy storage capability. When I speak to the ship, I am communicating with the raw data storage system, or encouraging the ship to alter its normal behavior patterns. The ship instinctively recycles any foreign objects it finds inside of itself. We have taught it to recognize certain living organisms and to ignore them. In exchange we make sure it is safe, and well fed. It is a symbiotic relationship.”
“So we are like inside its guts?”
“No, it does not have a gut. It does not consume food and excrete. It absorbs radiation through its sails and converts it to a compound it can use to maintain its metabolism, an earth analog to sugar perhaps. We are more accurately in a type of cyst that we have encouraged it to grow inside itself. What you will be walking on is just the tissues of the ship. It has circulatory tubes and fibrous connections like you do. If you felt movement, it was most likely a contraction of a muscle to promote circulation.”
“Like I said, guts.”
“Are you using humor again, Revekah?”
She shuddered and tried to laugh, but it fell flat. “Oh Xeno, I wish I was trying to be funny. You are so right when you said too much novelty is not a good thing. This is just too weird. But you are right. I can’t stay sitting up here forever. I am suspecting that forever is going to be a very, very long time.”
“Do only what you are comfortable with. I do not want you to injure your mind by trying to do too much at once.”
“Yeah, I get it. Too much, I freak out and go crazy. Too little, I get bored and go crazy. And a beautiful mind is shame to waste.”
“You do have a beautiful mind, Revekah. You see, hear, taste, smell, and feel things in a manner very different than I do. It is very stimulating to connect with you.”
“Just don’t get to over stimulated, big boy. Remember, we are taking our time.” As far as she was concerned it was going to be forever.
“I understand. I can see you trying to use your humor to deal with this stress. Again I am proud of your courage.”
“Okay, courage, yeah right. I am going to try and put my feet into that stuff again. Again, please do not move. The floor moving is as much excitement as I can handle at the moment.” Again she slid down and let her feet slide into the ‘guts’. ‘Guts’ was the only word in her head for this and it was not a pretty visualization, but it was worlds better than snakes. “Okay, I am going to crouch down a little and take a closer look at this ‘floor’ as you call it.” She kept her hand tightly gripped on his warm, strong arm, completely unaware how she needed to hold on for security more than balance. Looking closer revealed a tangle of what looked way too much like a vat of eels. They seemed to be slowly pulsing and quivering, and as she was looking one made a slow writhing contraction. Revekah forced herself to stand very still and keep looking, “Fucking A. And I am supposed to just walk around in this? Won’t it hurt the ship for me to step on these tube things?”
“It does not damage the ship for us to move about. We are very small in comparison to it.”
Revekah looked at Xeno’s sturdy legs that looked painfully bent as he kept his crouched position perfectly still. Surreptitiously she looked at the juncture of his legs and was somewhat relieved to see no genitalia, just a smooth juncture of gray skin. “Are you uncomfortable?”
“It is an unfamiliar position. I feel fatigue but I can remain in this position indefinitely.”
“Go ahead and stand up. Let’s take a very slow walk, one step at a time. If I fall down in this stuff, I will have a screaming fit.”
Slowly he stood to his full height and Revekah stood up as well, hanging onto his arm with both hands, completely oblivious to the contact of their skins. The floor was ten times creepier than he was. When they were upright, Revekah could no longer see her feet. The only solid thing within her vision was Xeno. She stared at the hands on his stronger set of arms. They were massive and had only three digits. Somehow too few fingers seemed less alarming than too many. His voice in her head was soft. “Do you want me to just start walking or do you want to set the pace? You will need to let me guide you to the portals between chambers.”
“You walk but go really slow. I will hold on and try not to freak out.” Xeno took a small step and Revekah lifted her feet high and matched his stride. “That wasn’t so bad. I can do this.” Her voice cracked as she felt something sliding along her ankle again. “Can you tell it to stop doing that moving thing?”
“That is an involuntary muscular action, much like the beating of your heart.”
Xeno took another step, “You will need to be aware that the dimensions of this room are more circular than square. At the edges of the room, the ceiling is lower and the surface of the ceiling is much the same as that of the floor. The irregular surface does hang down and will be low enough to touch your head and shoulders. You may wish to lean over to avoid that contact.”
“Oh really fucking great, snakes dangling from the ceiling.”
“If you would transfer your grasp to one of my smaller inner arms, I could use my stronger arms to shield you from the contact from the dangling pieces.”
His inner arm was just as firm but there did not seem to be any rigidity to it. Revekah suspected they were just as flexible and snaky as his tongue but he held them very still. He raised his big arms up and held them like a protective barrier over her head and shoulders. She was so aware of her relief that the low hanging loops and tendrils were being held away from her head and face that she did not notice she was almost completely encircled in a careful embrace. The arms sheltering her were very careful not to touch her skin, and she found herself shrinking closer to his side as she looked apprehensively at the foggy air, half afraid that some crazy squid tentacle would snake around her. All her life she had had a dread of snakes, especially constrictors. Now she found herself practically surrounded by snaky, crawly things.
She strangled down a giggle when she thought of a line out of an old movie from her childhood, “Snakes, why does it always have to be snakes.”
“We will be moving through an opening between chambers. In order to do this I will spread apart some of these hanging tendrils and we will move between them.”
“Okay, like a curtain.”
“That would be a good analogy. I will attempt to shield you from contact with the tendrils, but remember that they are just part of the structure of the ship. They are benign. They bring air for you to breathe, the raw materials for the synthesis of the items you require, and they carry away waste. They are nothing to fear.” He carefully eased her through a surprisingly small opening.
“I am just more used to flat, smooth, dry, mechanical types of things. All this is a little too organic for me. Is this the room with the immersion pool?”
“No, this is the central chamber. All other chambers connect to this room in a radial pattern.”
Xeno slowly steadily helped her to another opening and as they slipped through he spoke. “This is the room with the immersion pool. There is also a reflective surface in which you may regard your image in this room.” Revekah noticed that the scent that pervaded the ship seemed stronger in here; again she was reminded of the ocean beach at low tide and something else, something sharp, kind of like lemons or pine, but just not quite the same. It was not unpleasant but kind of tickled her nose.
“How big is the immersion pool?”
“If you stand up in it, the liquid will come up to your chest. It is only about two of your arm’s spans wide and long.”
“Is the bottom of it the same stuff as the floor?”
“Yes, the bottom is irregular and made up of the same materials as the walls of the chambers.”
“I knew it was too much to ask that I not have to swim with the snakes too.” Revekah was very aware that the snake description had overridden the ‘guts’ one in her mind. It was hard to figure, both seemed equally unbearable.
“It is big enough for both of us to get in at the same time?”
“Yes, but it will be difficult for me to keep from accidentally making contact with you.”
“I think I need to keep holding onto you. I don’t want to touch the bottom yet. But I want to hold onto your stronger arms. They feel more normal to me.”
“We can do that.”
Revekah transferred her grip back to his larger arm and they began to walk forward. She was feeling carefully ahead with her feet when she felt the dampness turn to wetness, and then the floor fell out from under her and she found herself plunging into deep warm water. She shrieked and convulsively clutched at his arm, wrapping both arms and her legs around it, pressing her cheek against his skin. Xeno stood very still. “Revekah, I am not initiating this increased contact.”
She kept her frantic embrace of his arm and grated out. “I know. I just sort of panicked. At least I am not running away. It looks like I am running toward.”
“You see me as a source of security?”
“I see you as a lesser of about a billion evils.” Slowly she unwound her legs and began to feel for the bottom. The floor of the pool did not feel very much different from the floor she had been walking on and she gradually loosened her grasp around his arm, keeping just one hand firmly anchored to him. The water was warm, almost hot tub warm, and had a very strong scent of the sharper astringent smell. She could feel her skin starting to tingle and her loins began to itch and tickle. “I get what you mean about sensitive membranes.”
“Are you in pain?”
“No, not pain, not yet.” Revekah ran her other hand down her body and rubbed at her skin, going through the motions of washing even if she was as clean as he claimed. “How often do you immerse yourself?”
“About twice per one of your normal human sleep cycles.”
“Really that often?”
“It promotes gas exchange through my skin. And I enjoy the sensation. I am going to submerge my body now if that would not disturb you.”
“As long as I can hold onto your arm, it will be okay.” Revekah was realizing for the first time that she needed that contact to feel safe enough to keep from panicking.
Xeno lowered himself into the fluid and remained submerged for several minutes. At first Revekah was slightly alarmed, wondering if he could drown. But he communicated to her, “Remember, I do not breathe through lungs like you. I can absorb the gasses I need to survive through my skin.”
By the time he stood up, her sex felt swollen and hot, it was everything she could do to keep from rubbing at it to sooth the heat and itching. She was squirming in discomfort. “I need to get out. It is really starting to bother me.” Revekah waded to the edge of the pool, but there was not any type of step and she shied away from the idea of crawling up over the edge, touching the tendrils and loops of stuff that made up the floor with her hands and body. “How can I get out?”
“I will get out and you can grasp my arm and I will lift you out. You will need to release my arm so that I may lift myself out.” Revekah reluctantly released her determined grip on his arm and watched as his two strong arms effortlessly lifted him from the water. She looked at his feet closely for the first time and idly observed he had three widely spaced toes similar to the hands on his strong arms, but with webbing between them.
She gave a silly giggle, “My, what big feet you have.”
“You find the anatomy of my feet amusing?”
“It was a joke, a line from a children’s story.”
“I am not familiar with much of your folk lore. I have not had time to study very much of the data that I recorded off your internet.” Xeno leaned down and presented his arm to her and she wrapped her arms around it. Revekah found herself being lifted easily from the water and deposited onto the ‘dry’ surface. Almost immediately most of the uncomfortable itching sensations stopped.
“If you want to regard your physical appearance, the reflective surface is this way.” He slowly turned and began to take small measured steps in another direction. “The reflective surface is designed to show all sides of your physique. At this stage of your visual adjustment I am not sure exactly how much you will be able to see, but you should be able to see your face clearly. It is like a three sided booth. There is not sufficient space in there for both of us and I would block your vision. You will need to take a step forward. I will be right here behind you if you need assistance.”
Revekah took a hesitant step forward and then another. An image swam into her view and she leaned a little closer. She found herself looking at a picture of herself as a young woman, perhaps in her late teens or early twenties. Her lack of hair was a little odd, but she reminded herself that it would be growing back. Her hair had always grown fast. Almost without thinking she reached out to touch the reflected face but her hand did not touch anything solid, and the image distorted like she had disturbed the surface a reflective liquid. Pulling her hand back, she spoke softly, “Hello, I never thought I would see you again.” She thought about all those times as she had aged when she had wished for her youth back, regretting all the things she had not done. Now she had it and all those opportunities missed were so far behind her that it seemed almost a cruel joke.
Xeno’s voice in her mind was very soft, “Revekah, for every missed experience you leave behind, I will give you a thousand new ones. We will see the universe. I have so much to show you and share with you. Do not regret what you leave behind. We have a wonderful adventure ahead of us.”
“How long have you been doing this?”
“Explored the universe?”
“Yes, how long have you been having your adventure?”
“I left my planet on board an interstellar ship for the first time 27,543 of your years ago. I spent the first ten thousand years training on board another ship. After that I have had my own ship. I accumulated enough wealth to pay for my ship after another ten thousand years. I have been sole owner and an independent trader since then.”
“How old are you?”
“I am over fifty thousand years old.”
“And I can live that long?”
“Much longer, barring unforeseen accidents.”
Revekah continued to stare at her image, “Am I your first ship partner?”
“Yes, I very much wanted a human female for a ship partner. It is very time consuming to travel to your planet. Your galaxy is at the far side of the explored universe and there is very little of the radiation that the starships feed on in that zone of the universe. It takes many decades to prepare a ship and then a great deal of encouragement to persuade it to venture into what it regards as a desert. I needed to accumulate a great deal of wealth before I could fulfill my dream of having a human ship partner. I will be the only Traveler with so valuable and desirable a ship partner.”
“Do you go back to your planet?”
“Only occasionally, perhaps once every few thousand years, most of the commodities I trade are information and technologies. While I primarily carry some items of cargo and information, I have provided transport to passengers on one occasion.”
Revekah’s stomach rumbled and she realized she was very hungry, “I am hungry. Do I need to go back to the room with the raised surface to eat?”
“Yes Revekah, the raised surface is a discrete portion of that room. As best as I can explain it is a different life form grafted onto the ship, very much like the matter conversion systems that synthesize the items we need.”
“Then let’s walk back to that room. Is that going to be ‘my’ room?”
“It can be if you want it to be.”
Revekah thought about it, “It’s funny. Humans are very much accustomed to personalizing their spaces, making them their own by filling them up with things, mostly useless things. I wish I could hang a picture on the wall or paint the walls.”
“That is a bit of a dilemma. One of the instinctive qualities of the ship is a very strong drive to rid itself of any foreign objects, much like your immune system fighting off infections. It took a great deal of genetic modification and training to get it to allow our life forms to coexist inside of it. It is very difficult to modify that behavior set.”
“Well, it was just a thought. Let’s walk back and I will think about what I want to eat.” Revekah found it took too much of her concentration to keep her balance and to control her impulses to shudder of jerk away as she felt the contractions and movement in the soft wet tubes and fibers that her feet were sinking into with each step. She clung to Xeno’s arm and cringed when she could see dangling tendrils, hanging down like jungle vines. He carefully held his large strong arms over her head, protecting them from trailing over her skin. She could not focus enough to communicate the simplest of foods until she was safely up on her bed.
Revekah yawned and blinked, “Let’s just try for something simple, I am getting pretty tired.” She focused her mind and imagined a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on soft white bread and a cold glass of milk. It was something she had eaten a thousand times before and it was easy to remember. When Xeno brought her the sandwich she took a bite and frowned, looking at it. It did not taste quite right, it seemed a little bland and the bread had no flavor at all, just texture and appearance. It was not bad, just not exactly right. “I guess I am a little worn out. I kind of messed this up.” The milk was perfect and she drank the whole glass and asked him to make her a second one. “I didn’t realize I was thirsty.”
When she finished drinking her second glass of milk and dropped it casually over the side of the bed, she asked, “Can this bed be made wider, about this wide?” She held her arms out wide. “It would give me room to crawl around a little more.”
“It can be made wider but then it will be closer to the level of the floor.”
“The floor will not crawl up over it, will it?”
“No, it knows to leave these sort of things exposed.”
“As long as it does not get up here with me, I don’t think I would mind being lower.”
“I would ‘loom’ over you more.”
“I am getting used to how tall you are.”
As the bed changed shape she found herself hanging onto the raised sides and peeking over. She could see the floor pretty clearly. It felt like she was on an island surrounded by a sea of squirming snakes. The color was almost lavender but there were streaks and spots of colors that were like the color in the air. Other places it glowed rich bright yellowish white, almost like a light bulb was shining through from down below.
Revekah imagined a warm wet terry washcloth and the chamber pot once more. “Thank you Xeno. Could you please give me the illusion of privacy? It is human nature to wish to be alone at times like these.” After she was finished she experimentally dropped the washcloth over the side of the bed and watched curiously as the coils shifted and twitched, slowly enveloping the foreign object and pulling it down out of sight. She commented to herself, “One hell of a shag carpet.” She sighed and put the pot with its embarrassing contents down and watched it slowly sink out of sight. She shook a finger at the floor, “Now clean that up good. You don’t know how gross it seems to think it might just be lurking down there somewhere for me to step in later.” And then she giggled.
Xeno’s voice was in her head, “The ship has no ability to hear you and is incapable of understanding that instruction. I assure you that any foreign objects will be completely broken down into their atomic components.”
“I was just talking. It is customary for humans to talk. We talk all the time. We talk to things; we talk to ourselves, hell we just like to hear the sounds of our own voices.”
“I understand. It is a trait common to many sentient species, mine included, compulsive communication.”
“I am going to sleep for a while. I have had enough adventures for one day.”
Again her sleep was crowded with dreams. She was at some kind of zoo, looking at the snakes through glass. She had hold of her Daddy’s hand and was peeking around his leg at the huge pythons that were lying torpid and motionless in a cage. Her Daddy was teasing her, singing a silly children’s song, “You are being eaten by a Boa Constrictor,” His fingers were tickling her as he sang. She was squirming and giggling and then one of the snakes slowly raised its head and looked straight at her. Its body began to seethe and undulate as it began to crawl toward the glass, its tongue flickering in and out. Revekah screamed and began to sob, trying to pull further away. Her Daddy gripped her tightly and pushed her toward the glass, teasing, “Here it comes, Revekah, it’s coming to eat you!”
She screamed and screamed, then she heard Xeno’s voice in her head, “Revekah, wake up.”
She was sitting up, shaking in fear. “I didn’t remember that. It seemed like it really happened, but all my life I did not remember him doing that.”
“The adult male in your dream was a parent figure?”
“Yes my father. I must have been only three or four.”
“Are you still feeling frightened?”
“Not so much, I still feel tired. I think I will try to go back to sleep.” As she lay back down she asked, “How much of my dreams can you sense?”
“Your dreams are cloudy and confused, some sensations and images stand out and then disappear. Your dreams happen very quickly, lasting only a few seconds. It is not the same as when you are awake.”
As she drifted back to sleep, she wondered if that one experience so early in her development had set the pattern for her lifelong fear of snakes. “Good night, Xeno, thank you for waking me up. That was a very bad dream.”
“You are welcome, Revekah. Good night.” Revekah wondered why she had said that, ‘good night’. She was sure that they were so far from the sun that it was perpetually night now.
Her next dream was one she had had all her life. She was feeling aroused, wanted to make love but it seemed like the man she was trying to seduce was too busy to notice. She was doing everything to attract his attention, sitting in a provocative position, squirming and sighing, giving him smoldering, sultry stares but nothing she could do would get him to pay any attention to her. The man in her dream was not someone she knew and the dream frequently happened in a busy public place. This time she was riding on a train, traveling through the night and the man was in the seat opposite her. Other people were sitting all around. Deliberately she brushed her foot against his leg, trying to get him to look at her.
She woke to find her hand between her legs, touching her throbbing sex. It was dark and she lay back, continuing to lightly caress the hairless mound between her legs, feeling the heat and moisture there. She thought back to the first time she felt Geoff touch her there, the instant raging arousal that took complete control of her mind. He had a magic touch that had always made her melt.
She jerked her hand away, shocked and embarrassed. “What?”
“You are awake?”
“Yes, damn it.” Her voice was frustrated and angry.
“You were self stimulating. Why did you stop?”
“Because you were in my fucking head, I can’t do this with an audience.”
“It is important for you to know that I will always be in your head. I cannot stop hearing your thoughts anymore than you can stop thinking them. It is also impolite for me to ‘spy’ on you without your consent. That is a little bit of a double bind but it is important that I be open with you, that I am here and I am listening and sharing your experiences. You can choose what you are willing to engage in but I cannot choose not to listen.”
“Did it bother you that I was, um, self stimulating?”
“Only the negative emotions associated with stopping. I sensed your frustration and then I experienced my own. Up until then I was rather enjoying sharing those sensations with you.”
“So, if I do this kind of thing, do you have to say something while I am doing it, so I know you are there? Can’t you just assume I know and am trying not to think about it too much, so I can, um, self stimulate more effectively. It, um, kind of requires focus and concentration to successfully self stimulate. When you talk it distracts me.”
“Do I understand you correctly? You are giving me overt permission to share the experience with you while you are self stimulating?”
“Do you need permission?”
“I have already told you, Revekah, I will not force you to do anything you do not want to do. That includes sharing sexual experiences with me. In fact from your original reaction to our discussion about sharing sexual experiences, I got the distinct impression that you felt very strong negative opinions about sharing sexual experiences with me.”
“Xeno, this is too weird. I am making some huge adjustments here and the idea of having sex with you, you touching me sexually, is too freaking weird. The idea that you hear every single thing I think, feel all my physical sensations, actually seem to enjoy my emotions is, in many ways, already like being raped. I do know that is how you communicate, but it is fucking horrible to realize there is nothing I can keep private and just my own. Every single random impulsive thought is there open to you. I am not only naked physically; I am naked in all ways. Don’t get me wrong, if you had not been here to explain and answer my questions I would have gone completely insane with terror. As it is, I am barely holding it together.” Revekah stopped and realized she had been talking faster and faster, the words just pouring out of her. Her body was huddled in a tiny ball, her arms tight around her knees. She was trembling with effort to keep what little control she had left.
Xeno’s voice in her head was soft, “Revekah, I am sorry this is a difficult adjustment. Would it reassure you to know that you are making the adjustment more quickly than the other humans that were brought to my planet?”
“Again I will say ‘you will not be forced to do anything you do not want to do’. If I become aware that you are having sexual feelings, what do you want me to do? Do you want me to remain silent or do you want me to remind you of my presence?”
“Oh god, this is crazy. I don’t know what got into me this morning. I just was having a dream and when I woke up I was having feelings I had not felt in so long. I just wanted to remember.” Realizing she was avoiding answering his questions, she took a deep breath, “For now, if you sense me, um, touching my body, having sexual feelings, just stay quiet and as far away as possible. Don’t talk to me during and don’t talk to me about it afterwards. Let’s just pretend I don’t know you are there. It will make me feel a little better to be able to pretend that for now.”
“Agreed, are you going to continue self stimulating?”
“Good lord, no. I just wanted to clear that up. I am sorry, Xeno, it is just not the kind of situation around here that gets a girl in the mood for that sort of thing. There seems to be a serious lack of wine, candles and soft music. I feel terrified and disoriented most of the time and that just is not sexy. The very fact that something that looks like a movie monster is lurking out there, just out of my range of vision, lusting after me is not much of a turn on.”
Revekah realized somehow she was feeling guilty for not wanting to give him what he wanted, guilty about disappointing him. She wondered why she was caring about his feelings and wondered if this was that Stockholm syndrome you would hear about with captives. She was very clear in her head that he was the only source of information and reassurance about the place she was in now. A little wave of stubbornness ran through her, well he was the one who abducted her; she told herself she did not owe him anything. Then she had a sudden spasm of terror, he was listening to all this, listening to her inner dialog about her mixed feelings of dependence and anger.
“Revekah, you are not thinking or feeling anything I did not expect. I am sure there will be long periods of time where you feel very angry at me for doing this to you. I am surprised you have not already begun to hate me. It is normal to be very angry at someone who has taken a choice away from you. I did not ask you if you were willing to become my partner. I inflicted that upon you.”
“Don’t you get angry?”
“I am capable of that emotion, but after a few thousand years of existence, one tends to come to terms with most things that cause emotional stress. I have learned patience. It takes great patience to travel between stars.”
“I don’t think I will ever be patient like that.”
“Revekah, you are just a new born infant, only eighty-six years old. Do not discount your capacity to learn and grow. You will learn many things.”
“What did you do to pass all that time as you traveled?”
“I studied the worlds I discovered. I reviewed information gleaned from a thousand worlds by other travelers. We do not meet often in the expanses of space but when we do, we exchange what we have learned. When I return to my home planet I acquire vast amounts of information into the ships data banks. When I was on your planet I recorded as much of your world’s history, art, natural wonders and scientific knowledge as I could. While you are sleeping I have been studying various chemical compounds unique to your planet that may have some marketable value on other worlds. There is much to keep my mind busy. But I missed companionship, someone to talk to, and someone to share with.”
“Is there any way I can access this information?”
“I had anticipated your need to do this. The few humans on my planet have wanted to be able to access our information storage systems and have paid a great deal to our scientists to develop interface systems that are adapted to your communication styles. I purchased one of these interface systems prior to my voyage to your planet. It is not simple but with practice I am sure you will be able to become adept. One large barrier is that my species does not need to learn the language of other species. With telepathy we automatically understand the meaning of the words without needing translation. You will need to learn the languages of other species to understand the verbal information and learn their writing systems to read their text information but you can still view images and listen to the sounds of their cultures until you master their languages. You will not have that difficulty with most of the earth data because your internet primarily used your native language.”
“How many worlds?”
“Do you mean how many worlds do I have information about that you could access?”
“Sort of, I guess I really mean how many worlds are there with life on them.”
“Again, I must ask a clarifying question. Exactly what do you mean by life?”
She shook her head, “Xeno, we have been talking in the dark. Turn up the lights and let’s try to make oatmeal and then maybe you can tell me exactly what you mean by life and we will work from there. This is obviously very much more complicated than I had originally anticipated.” As the room grew brighter, she closed her eyes and imagined warm oatmeal with brown sugar and cream.
As she sat cross legged on her bed, Xeno sat down on the far corner and began to talk, “You are very right; this is very complicated. There is great debate about what constitutes life at all. Does it reproduce? Does it move? Does it consume energy? Does it grow?” Is a tiny single celled organism life? Most likely, but viruses on your planet have more in common with crystals than they do other single celled animals. But then again, I can show you crystals on other planets that look more like cells than minerals. Then there are the arguments about what constitutes complex life versus simple life. Is it the number of cells? Is it how they are organized? And there have been wars fought over what the definition of intelligent life is and what self awareness is. And don’t even get me started on the numbers of theories and debates over what the definition of an advanced civilization is. Currently the only over riding definition is whether the civilization has independently developed interstellar travel. That ability is the required level of technological development to qualify as an advanced civilization.”
Revekah scraped the last bites of her oatmeal out of the bowl and licked off the spoon. “That was good. Did you like it?”
“I liked you liking it.”
“Okay, let’s figure this out. Is there a legal definition for life on your planet?”
“Interesting that you use the concept of law, because my species does not have the capacity to lie there never is any question of guilt or innocence. One cannot conceal the evidence of their crimes so it is very rare for a member of my society does anything antisocial deliberately. My culture is very tolerant of mistakes and diminished mental capacity. There is very little in the way of laws in my culture. We have rules of conduct, but if an individual chooses not to follow them we just opt to not interact with that individual. My culture allows individuals to make their own determination when it comes to opinions about debatable things, like the definition of life. I personally do not worry too much about it. I just look for what interests me, life or not. I gather what interests me and try to trade it to other cultures for more things that interest me.”
Revekah smiled, “Is it possible for me to lie to you?”
“It would be difficult. You would have to have amazing control of your thoughts. You would almost have to believe this untruth yourself, never once letting the real facts leak into your thinking from your memory.”
“I can see how that would be hard.”
“It took my culture as a complete surprise to learn that there were species that could deceive one another. It was a concept so alien that we studied the phenomena for many thousands of years. We actually used that as one of our definitions for civilization at one point.”
“So how many worlds have been explored that had you have data on?”
“I have data on 1,756,542 worlds stored in my data banks. Of those over half have complex life, and over seven hundred thousand have intelligent life. Only 357 advanced civilizations have been discovered, using the definition of having developed some form of interstellar travel as a measure of advanced.”
“Then by your definition earth is an intelligent, not advanced civilization?”
“By my definition, that is correct. Almost all forms of interstellar travel depend upon a very specific form of radiation that travels many times faster than the speed of light. That radiation is not found in the zone of space occupied by your galaxy. It is unlikely your species will ever develop interstellar flight unless they make some kind of scientific breakthrough and discover something that no one else has.”
“You said almost all. Then some other species have developed interstellar flight without this radiation stuff.”
“Yes, a very few adapted to space in other ways, some creating living evolving cultures that lived out generation after generation on board vast ships that move at conventional light speeds across space. They technically did travel to other stars but it took thousands of years to travel just a small distance. Another learned how to put themselves into suspended animation and slept for thousands of years, but it too was slow and could only take them to the nearest of star systems.”
“Do all Travelers live as long as you do?”
“Most opt for the introduction of nano bots into their bodies, but there is a small sect of spiritualists who believe that there is an existence of a soul and that to deny death is to deny the spiritual evolution of this soul. They believe that their spirit is destined to travel to a higher plane of existence. I personally do not believe this is a valid theory.”
“Is is possible to have the nano bots removed from my body?”
“It is not difficult but they are very beneficial. They help with a lot more than just preventing aging. They keep harmful germs from damaging your tissues, they detect any nutritional deficiencies and can create the needed compounds inside our bodies as we need them, and they help enhance the rate of healing if there ever is an injury to your body. They do a great deal more as well.”
“If I asked for you to take them out of my body, would you do that?”
“It is one of those things I would not give you the option of doing. I am sorry, Revekah, you would begin to age normally and die in just a few decades. I cannot allow that.”
“I don’t know if I would ask for it anyway. Like you, I don’t really believe that I have a spirit destined for a higher plane. It was easy to look forward to death when I had nothing else to look forward to. But now, like you say I have an adventure ahead of me.”
“I am glad that you are willing to accept this.”
Revekah looked at the empty bowl she had been holding in her hand and leaned over the edge of her bed and gently placed it down on floor. She watched as the bowl and spoons slowly sank out of view. “Does ship like this, traveling with you?”
“The ship has very limited self awareness beyond a strong sense of self preservation. It instinctively will not place itself at risk. As long as it has opportunities to feed, it will continue to perform the tasks I place before it indefinitely.”
“So ship lives forever too?”
“We introduced nano bots into ships as well. Prior to that, they lived for only approximately one millennium.”
“These nano bots, they are an important part of the Traveler culture.”
“In many ways they are the single most important defining thing in our culture. They are not found naturally. A very famous scientist created them from another life form. They are living things. They are dependent upon our bodies to survive and in return they make sure we survive a very long time as well. It was nano bot technology that made it possible to develop interstellar travel. Prior to that, we were not known as Travelers.”
“So I am a Traveler now too, aren’t I?”
“Yes, Revekah, I have made you a Traveler, more specifically a Starship Traveler, because you are a ship partner now.”
“Where are we going?”
“We are going to a zone of the universe where the radiation is very rich. Our ship is very low on stored energy. Traveling to your world is at the very limits of its abilities. It will take us about sixty years to arrive there. Once we are there ship will need to feed for another twenty years to replenish its reserves. Then we will travel on to my home planet. That voyage will take another fifty years.”
Revekah giggled, “Okay, the next hundred and fifty years for a fill up. It gives a whole new meaning to running to the gas station.”
“You are aware that I have been converting my measures of time to your years so that you might have a frame of reference.”
“I guess so. For now keep doing that. Later I will try to learn your measures but right now I think I am dealing with enough new stuff.”
“You are doing very well.”
“You keep saying that. Telling me how good I am doing, like you weren’t expecting it.”
“Not all alien species collected by Travelers are successful in adapting to the situation they find themselves in. It is not uncommon for there to be emotional break downs. Many go catatonic. I studied your mind carefully, hoping to select a likely candidate. Not only was I searching for a mind that is very sensory in its information processing, I was also searching for curiosity, intelligence and resilience. It has been well documented that older candidates seem to have less difficulty adjusting. You have turned out better than I had hoped.”
“I don’t know if I should say thank you.”
“I meant it as a compliment.”
“Is your species capable of love?”
“Very much so, Revekah, great love.”
Suddenly nervous again, she stared over the edge of the bed, and then scooted to the foot, sitting next to him. She experimentally prodded at the floor with her toe and watched as the tubes and filaments quivered and seethed in response. Then she notices an almost imperceptible tickling and looked closer to notice a number of very fine thread-like cilia extending out to touch and explore her foot. Instinctively she jerked her foot back. “What is it doing?”
“For the wont of a better term, tasting you, it is analyzing your foot to see if it needs recycling. Once it determines that it is one of the living things it is to coexist with, it will stop.”
“Weird.” Revekah flipped around and carefully reached down with her hand. Again she watched as the very fine threads reached up and very lightly crawled across the end of her finger. When she slowly pulled back they stretched up and then slowly one by one let go and retracted quickly into the tube they had grown out of. She looked at her finger tip and it looked unchanged. “Do they ever grow into me, like through my skin?”
“No, the ship would not do that.”
“You know, it seems like I am seeing better today than yesterday. Do you know how long it will take for all these sparkles to go away?”
“Other humans adapted at different rates. Data shows the quickest adaption to be only about thirty days. There was been one or two that did not adapt visually at all. Nearly all report that there is always some residual amount of visual distortion, a halo type of quality to their vision that is permanent, but they do not find it hampers their ability to function.”
“How many humans have there been?”
“Not counting you, I have records of 352 humans collected from your planet by one Traveler. All of them were collected almost a hundred thousand years ago. It was determined that they were an intelligent life form and that it was immoral to collect intelligent life forms.”
“Are they all alive now?”
“Two hundred and eighty-six of that original number still live. The rest are dead by accident or suicide.”
“I am an intelligent life form. You collected me. Wasn’t that immoral?”
“Revekah, I broke a very strict rule when I took you. In many ways I will be regarded as a deviant by inflicting this choice upon you.”
She sat up slowly and looked at him with new eyes, “Will you get in trouble?”
“Do you mean will I be punished? No, my culture does not punish deviance. They shun it. I may become unwelcome on my planet. But I rarely travel there anymore.”
“Then why are we going there after you, um, refill the ship’s energy?”
“I have a few pieces of unfinished business there. Plus, I am hoping you will become a willing partner and truthfully tell them you are with me voluntarily. If it is the truth, they will accept that.”
“Well we do have a long time before I need to worry about that.”
“Whatever happens, you are not going to be able to go home. There is an interstellar agreement to not trade or even reveal technology to any species not capable of interstellar flight. It is accepted to collect information, non-sentient species, artifacts and other interesting items from just about anywhere but it can be risky to take and not offer anything in exchange. It is general practice to try and not be discovered. You know far too much about Travelers now to return home, if you could even find someone willing to make the trip. The only valuable commodity that we found on earth was your species.”
“And it is immoral to take us.”
Xeno’s voice was sad, “Yes.”
“This conversation seems to be going in circles. Let’s talk about something else. How many chambers are there here in the ship?”
“Counting the central room, there are six, your room, the submersion room, the data storage access room, a live specimen storage room and an empty chamber that are not being used at the moment.”
“What live specimens?
“I have collected the genetic codes for a large number the non-sentient species. They are in living cells are in suspended animation. My species has a great affinity for alien life forms. We have vast reserves and zoos devoted to life forms from around the universe.”
“And you can just grow them from the cells you collected?”
“It is easier to keep cell cultures in suspended animation rather than whole living individuals. We have the technology to clone endless copies from a single tissue sample.”
“Could I see pictures of your planet?”
“You will need to grasp my arm again and we will walk to the data room. I will interface with the mechanism until you are able to learn its controls.”
It seemed like there were more dangling tendrils but Revekah realized it was a result of being able to see a little better. Somehow her little observations of the recycling and the gentle cilia that tasted her skin seemed to make them seem a little less snaky and frightening. “It’s kind of like living in the jungle, having to walk through the swamp and work your way through the vines and shrubs.”
Xeno commented, “And no boa constrictors.”
Revekah’s voice was a suppressed giggle, “Xeno are you using humor?”
“I enjoy the little rush of happiness that accompanies your experiencing humor, Revekah. It is sweet.”
“I like it too.”
The data room had two raised platforms that were similar in color and texture to her bed in her room. They were shaped more like dentist chairs. Xeno gestured towards one with one of his smaller arms, “I had a second platform installed for your use.”
As she climbed up she looked at him. “You have been planning for this for a long time haven’t you?”
“Almost twenty-thousand years.”
“What if I don’t work out? What if I go crazy or catatonic?”
“You won’t. It would have happened already. But if it had, I would have gone back to traveling and accumulating enough resources to try again in another thousand or so years. Just the hope of having a partner like you made the patience possible.”
“Am I the first human you have collected?”
“Yes, I observed your planet for nearly seventy-five of your years. I started observing you when you were just a young woman. I watched you your whole life. I knew you were going to be the one.”
Revekah felt goose bumps rise up and run down the length of her body. “And you waited until I was old.”
“I knew that I could not take you away from your life while you were able to live it. I waited until your life was nearly over.”
“That is very sweet in kind of a creepy kind of way. Were you, um, sharing my experiences all that time?”
“No, only now and then I made a quick scan to evaluate your development. I did not have your consent. I know it seems kind of silly that I felt the need to respect your consent to sharing but somehow justified collecting you to save you from death. I used that justification to meet my own needs. Someday, perhaps you will forgive me.”
“I will think about it.”
“Thank you. It would mean a great deal to me to know that you hold no animosity towards me for my actions. If you scoot forward to the bottom edge of your platform you should be close enough to see the screen. It works on much the same principal as the reflective surface.”
Revekah found herself peering at an image that was confusing at first. There seemed to be a large number of large multicolored slightly flattened balloons sitting on the ground. All around were irregularly shaped objects that she thought maybe were trees. “Tell me about this. What are these round things?”
“The best reference you have would be buildings, but they are grown, not built. They are used for living structures.”
“And these things?”
“Those are a native species, like plants in many ways but not exactly. They have been modified to transmit energy beams.”
“It takes energy to run a civilization. It must be moved to one place to another. These trees are used for this purpose.”
“Cool, landscaping and telephone poles all in one sweet package.”
Next was a picture of a Traveler, standing in front of a strangely mechanical looking object. He was pointing it with one of his smaller arms. “Who is that?”
“An important historical figure, the Traveler that invented nano bots.”
“Do Traveler’s have names?”
“Yes but not ones that are spoken out loud. It would not be comprehensible to you. For instance my real name is…”
Revekah cringed and threw her hands over her ears as her head was filled with a distressing combination of static and feedback. “Holy shit! Okay, stop already. I get it. Not only is it incomprehensible but it’s fucking painful to hear.”
“I am sorry.”
“Let’s stick to Xeno. That is short for Latin or is it Greek for alien anyway, isn’t it?”
“Works for me. What is he pointing at?”
“A piece of art collected from another intelligent species.”
“I thought it did not look organic. How did you get it past the ship’s recycling systems?”
“It is organic. It is a crystalline life form shaped by the species to be pleasing to the eye.”
“I guess that goes to show that you cannot make assumptions from just looking at pictures.”
“It has been my experience that it is wise to not make assumptions without in depth study.”
They looked at what seemed like dozens of pictures, pictures of more round building cities, pictures of surprisingly normal looking mountains and rivers, pictures of animals that looked like orchids and flowers that looked like crabs. The sky was the same unnamable color that the air in the ship was and everything else seemed to be a clashing mix of color mostly blues and purples, but with yellows and reds. Revekah realized that there was very little that was green. “You know, I just realized, that I don’t see the particles in the pictures.”
“The light source for my planet is not visible to your eyes. If you were there it would seem as black as when I turn off the lights. There are very few outdoor light sources on my planet adapted for human vision. There is a kind of visual enhancement mechanism that has been developed for humans that can translate the vista before you into one that can be seen by your eyes. It is large and cumbersome though. It is an inorganic construct built by one of the humans who live on our planet.”
“Do Travelers have families? Do you have a mother and a father, brothers and sisters?”
“Remember that Travelers do not have male and female genders. We do exchange genetic materials to create new offspring. But we do not allow the genetic materials to mix randomly. We are very careful to make sure each offspring has optimum inherent abilities. I do have progenitors and I am sure if I wished, I could find out their identities in the genetic records, but my species does not have genetic allegiances. All newly formed Travelers are raised in what you would best regard as a school. We are very close with the other members of our class, they are our family.”
Xeno continued, “Because Travelers are for the most part immortal, very few offspring are required to repopulate the species. There were only twelve in my class. Only once a generation is there a class of new Travelers brought forth.”
“Generation? How long is that?”
“I am sorry that is a Traveler time reference. A generation is the general term for the amount of time it takes for a Traveler to mature into adulthood; it translates to 48.7 human years.”
“Only twelve children in almost fifty years, is that enough to keep your population stable?”
“We are a very careful species. Risk taking is not a trait looked well upon. The nano bots do a good job of healing any accidental injuries. If there is need, the class is larger. Mine was of average size.”
“How do Travelers ‘bring forth’ offspring?”
“Now, it is done in a medical facility. The necessary genetic components are assembled and the offspring is grown to a viable juvenile stage and then moves to the school.”
“How did they used to do it before nano bots, before doctors?”
“The Traveler species evolved along with another non-sentient species. This non-sentient species was and still is completely dependent upon the Travelers, a symbiot. During a specific season in the weather cycles of our planet, all Travelers would experience the compulsion to reproduce. It took two Travelers to contribute the necessary genetic materials. During that ‘mating’ season the Travelers would experience some significant changes in their psychology, physiology and anatomy. They would develop genetic packets of material that would grow inside their mouths. The two Travelers would both contribute genetic packets and insert them into the symbiot to germinate. The offspring would be smaller but fully formed and while uneducated and vulnerable to many predators, they would be released to fend for themselves. A large number would die but the few that survived would have superior survival characteristics.”
Revekah sat and thought about that. “Sounds complicated, you said once that it was painful?”
“The psychological changes included a compulsion to fight for territory. If a Traveler was able to control a larger area of territory, so that he could control a large number of symbiots, then he would have more offspring. There was a great deal of fighting involved. The battles were both physical and telepathic. Even the act of exchanging genetic materials was often more of a battle than a cooperative effort. There would be a fight and the loser would have his genetic packets taken, not infrequently from his dead body.”
Revekah blinked, “Yes, I can see how that would hurt.”
“It was necessary for the advancement of our civilization for this mating frenzy to be controlled. All Travelers voluntarily have their reproductive systems deactivated. In fact, nano bots automatically deactivate the reproductive systems of all their hosts. Before we started doing this we could not live socially. Travelers are still more comfortable with other species than their own.”
“It seems like everything you have is a living thing.”
“We evolved a very powerful telepathic ability early in our development. We use that telepathy to interact with and control the living things around us. Another name our race is sometimes called is Herders because we always have been involved in keeping and crafting living things to meet our needs. As our civilization advanced we shaped the living things around us to more complex and specific functions.”
Revekah yawned, “Can we go back to my room. I am feeling tired again. It seems like I am sleeping all the time.”
As they carefully walked back to her room Xeno explained, “You are still healing much of the damage that age has done to your body. Almost nothing you are experiencing is familiar. It is stressful. Sleeping is your species way of healing and it has been my observation that it is also a time for you to process and calm.”
“Am I sleeping more than usual. I have no idea about the passage of time. How long have I been gone from earth now?”
“Not long, only about thirty of your earth days. I kept your body sedated for the first twenty days to facilitate the introduction of the nano bots and to give your body a chance to heal.”
“So I have been awake for almost ten days?”
“You have been unsedated for that long, but you have been sleeping a great deal of that time. You have been awake for only about twenty-four hours total since I first woke you up.”
“Will I always sleep this much?”
“No, once your body and mind becomes adjusted you will begin to find a normal sleeping and waking cycle. It seems that without external, cues you will naturally fall into a slightly longer than twenty-four hour cycle but it varies between individuals.”
Revekah decided to be ambitious and thought carefully about shrimp scampi, over fresh pasta and hot fragrant garlic bread. As he brought it in the smell of garlic made her mouth water and her stomach rumble. “Oh my god, that smells delicious. Can you smell it?”
“I have no sense of smell, but I can ‘taste it’ with the chemical sensors in my fingers. To tell you the truth it ‘tastes” vile. But when you smell it and eat it, it becomes transformed. It is delicious and I enjoy it very much. I can feel your whole body responding to the pleasurable experience. I feel your joy.”
“If you want to feel real joy, bring me some of this.” Revekah carefully imagined a big slice of chocolate cheese cake with fresh raspberries on the top a cup of coffee with a shot of rum in it.
As she slowly sensually took small bites and rolled them around in her mouth, savoring them and then washing them down with the sweet pungent coffee, she watched Xeno sitting, watching her from the foot of the bed. “Do you like that?”
“I can tell you like that. Your happiness is my goal, Revekah. I want you to feel like this, happy, satisfied, openly sharing all the things that make you feel wonderful.”
Revekah turned around and lay with her head toward the foot of her bed, where Xeno was sitting. “You really watched me grow up, live out my life?”
“Yes, I did not watch you every single minute of the day but when I could not personally monitor you I had recording devices observing you.”
“Then you saw me with Geoff.”
“Geoff, that is the name of the second male that you were mated with?”
“Yes, I loved him very much, just being around him made me happy. His happiness was important to me too. I would have done anything to make him happy even for just an instant. It nearly destroyed me when I had to watch him suffer those last years of our marriage. And then he died.”
Xeno’s voice was soft, “I have never had someone I cared about die. Death is rare among travelers and always traumatic for all around. The few Travelers who have shared death have experienced…” Xeno did not finish the sentence.
Revekah waited and then asked, “Experienced what?”
“I am trying to find the best corresponding concept in your language. I want to say heart break, but it is more profound and permanently life altering. They seem almost permanently sad. I mentioned once that your thinking has patterns and tones are almost like music. It seems like the music changes, or more accurately there is something added, a minor tone or an added melody. I spoke to you once about a small sect of Travelers who refuse to use the nano bots, the ones that believe in a spirit. Many of the members of that sect have shared death. It is a part of their rituals. They say they do not fear death because they believe in a spirit that transcends their physical existence.”
“When Geoff died, I thought I would never ever be able to feel joy again. In many ways I have never been the same. Geoff never believed in the existence of a spirit within him. I know for a long time I tried to believe there was one, so I would have some hope of being together with him again. After a while I realized that if there was this thing, this spirit, it was larger and more important than me and my love. Then I just gave up thinking about it.”
“Do not discount love, Revekah. Love is the most powerful emotion of all.”
“I thought you said that sex was.”
“Human sexual pleasure is very intense. But love, it has depth and strength. I have not found a race that does not experience love and value it above all other things.”
“Do Traveler’s believe in god?”
“Do we believe that there was a single all knowing creator intelligence that is responsible for all that happens in the universe, a creator that made us and you and all other living things? No, that theory never was a part of any Traveler mythos. In fact we know that there was a creator race. We have found evidence that there was a race that planted the seeds of life throughout the universe.”
“What?” Revekah’s voice was shocked and curious.
“They came through this universe long ago and left behind the seeds. All life has some very basic things in common, some basic building blocks. Some theorists suggest it was in their excretions, other more idealist thinkers believe it was a deliberate action. There is no way to know for sure. But we have found evidence of their visits and there is too much in common between the life on many worlds to question the fact they existed here for a while and then moved on. Perhaps they are still traveling from one universe to the next, planting the seeds or leaving their shit, it does not matter which.”
“You keep saying things that make my head spin. I am asking about this one amazing thing and you casually say ‘this universe’ like everyone knows there are others. I am trying to get around the idea that there were some aliens that came to earth and left some shit behind and all life on earth has somehow evolved from that. And there you go saying ‘this universe’. Okay, how many universes?”
“That is a question many would give a great deal to learn. We are just now beginning to realize that the concept of universe is not a singular. In theory there are infinite universes. No Traveler has gone to another universe. That kind of space flight is far beyond the our technology.”
“Is it too far for the ship to travel?”
“I fear I am going to just raise more questions with this answer, but the best way to express it is that it is too sideways.”
“You are talking about parallel universes!”
“Excellent, Revekah, while they may not be parallel in the geometrical sense, they do seem to exist side by side. But you need to understand that this is a very complex side by side. Each universe had infinite sides and then each universe that is just beside it has infinite sides with more universes next to it.”
“How do they know that they really exist, if you can’t go there?”
“Now, Revekah, you have gone beyond this simple Traveler’s ability to understand or explain. It is a theoretical physics beyond my ability. I devoted most of my study to alien species and did not spend enough time with mathematics and physics. Suffice it to say that the experts have sent things, tiny things, there and gotten them back almost the same instant. They were able to track that very short trip. It was little more than touching the surface of the ocean with a finger tip but the finger tip came back wet. It proves the existence of water, but how deep is it and how wide? That is something we may never know. It is a very exciting concept to a Traveler, an infinity of universes to explore.”
Cautiously and deliberately, Revekah reached out and touched Xeno’s hand, not one of the strong three fingered hands but one of the six fingered boneless hands on the end of his smaller arm that seemed to trigger more instinctive fear. Xeno sat very still and let her explore. It felt warm and just a little damp but was not like the squid tentacles she imagined. Curiously she manipulated the ‘fingers’ and felt the rough surface of his palm. It was soft and seemed to very slightly adhere to her skin, like the gentlest Velcro. “You say you taste things with your fingers?”
“Yes, I have chemical receptors on my fingers and palms.”
“Do I taste funny?”
“No, you taste salty.”
Revekah began to giggle, “Only salty?”
“Salty and a little like chicken.”
Revekah’s giggle turned to shrieks of laughter. “Chicken? How did you know about that joke?”
“I was on your planet for a few decades. I studied many aspects of your culture. There was a while where I was interested by the phenomena of cannibalism within your species. I am sure there was a lot I did not ‘get’ but that was one joke that stood out in my memory. ‘Tastes like chicken,’ is a punch line for many jokes that have to do with the consumption of human flesh.”
Revekah measured her palm against his, extending her fingers out against his; the thumb-like digits were almost twice as long as her thumb but the smaller middle digits were not a great deal longer than her fingers. She interlaced her fingers with his, noting that with six digits he had five spaces in between, one for each of his fingers.
“What do I taste like, really?”
“I can taste the fluid your skin produces for temperature management, your sweat. It has salt in it and pheromones that humans use to communicate with each other. I can taste some of the flavorings that were in your past meals. Under that are the proteins and minerals that make up your skin and body fluids.”
“Pheromones, I sort of knew about them but I never thought about them much. I can remember how Geoff smelled.” Revekah closed her eyes and thought about his pillow, about burying her face in that pillow and inhaling. Then she thought about how his skin smelled and tasted. Revekah felt an echo of that wonderful first shiver of lust that she had always gotten from that first deep inhalation of his smell. It was always strongest in his armpits or his groin. He had always complained when she would press her face there, greedily savoring that scent. He had always wanted to bathe, protesting he was dirty from work, that he stank. Revekah smiled she had always told him that he ‘stank good’. “I wish I could smell that one more time.”
“Revekah, remember all you have to do is share the memory with me and I can replicate it. I could make a scent that would replicate the one in your memory. You have shared it very well. You could relive that smell anytime you choose.”
“Really? I don’t remember what it was like; all I remember is how it made me feel. And I wonder if it would make me feel the same, if he was not there with it. I always believed it was because it was him.”
“You do remember what it was like. And in answer to whether they would make you feel the same without his physical presence? Most likely not, it may make you feel good, but the same? It is unlikely. Human memory is often triggered by scent. There are many very strong emotional memories associated with that smell in your mind.”
“Yes, he always triggered some strong emotions in me. I don’t think I loved anyone before I met him, and I did not think I would ever love anyone else ever again. Perhaps I wouldn’t have, but now you say I will live forever. Will I forget him? Will he fade away?” Revekah’s voice was small and sad. “Can my brain keep that memory forever? Can you forget love?”
“You are correct in your realization that your brain, even my brain, cannot keep the memories of an endless lifetime fresh and new. Old memories fade and disappear, new memories replace them. Some are recoverable. It is like the brain still has them but has forgotten how to retrieve them, but others seem to completely disappear. I do have images and recordings of your life in the data banks for you to access. But they are only the outside, they are not what you felt and thought while you were experiencing them. Only memories that are used, remembered, re-experienced, stay fresh and accessible. If you want to remember Geoff, you must keep remembering him. Share with me those memories, Revekah, and you will keep them.”
A deep shuddering yawn shook through her and she realized she had not opened her eyes again since closing them thinking about Geoff’s smell. Her body already had that boneless, weightless feeling that heralded sleep. “I can’t stay awake any longer, maybe tomorrow.” She reluctantly let go of the alien hand she had been holding for so long. An idle random thought coasted through her fading consciousness, ‘tomorrow,’ what does that mean in a timeless world.
This time the dream was on the ship, she was trying to hurry from one chamber to the next. But it seemed like the tubes and fibers were catching on her feet, entangling her, trying to hold her back. The hanging tendrils grabbed at her and she struggled to get through them, wiggling and squeezing her body through what seemed like an impenetrable mass. She was looking for someone and as soon as she thought it, she realized she was looking for Geoff. He had said that the ship had left the planet and he had been there on it. He had to be here somewhere. She called out to him but there was no sound in response.
A horrible thought shot through her; Geoff was dead. The ship would recycle him. She wailed in panic and fell to her knees digging at the floor with her hands, forcing apart the layers of tubes and filaments. She screamed at the ship to give him back.
His hand on her shoulder and his voice in her ear brought her to her knees sobbing in relief. “Oh, sweetheart, I had thought I lost you.” She stared into his face like a starving person.
His voice was light and amused, “You don’t think I would let you leave without me?”
She wrapped her arms around him, clutching at him, fearful of losing her grip on him. “Don’t ever leave me again.”
Right before his lips touched hers he murmured, “I am here now.”
It seemed like her whole body strained to merge with his. She could not press tightly enough against him and as he entered her, she sobbed with joy. Her orgasm rolled through her, making her loins quiver and pulse, and woke her. As she lay in the darkness, she could feel her heart beating heavily in her chest. She reached down and pressed her hand against her throbbing sex and pressed hard, trying to somehow trap the feeling, to save it for as long as possible. Her face was wet with tears. She whispered to the darkness, “I won’t forget you.”
Her hair had grown out almost half an inch when she could see the walls of her room from the vantage point of her bed. There was still a soft translucent quality to her vision, like there was a faint rainbow halo around anything seen at a distance, but if she did not concentrate on it she was hardly aware of it. She was able to walk around on the damp uneven surface of the floor without assistance but still held Xeno’s arm almost out of habit now. She was having a hell of a time finding the portals between rooms. As far as she could tell the walls of her room were uniformly covered with dangling tubes and tendrils. It frustrated the hell out of her that Xeno could walk directly to the wall, casually push aside the tendrils like a beaded curtain and step through. She kept asking him how he did that and then demand. “Damn it, can’t you make an exit sign?”
Xeno would solemnly inform her he would think about that issue.
Each day she would go to the immersion pool and take a quick plunge, staying in only long enough to feel the illusion of having rinsed off, getting out before the tingling became too much to ignore. She would spend hours sitting in the data room, looking at pictures of other planets, asking Xeno endless questions. She learned how to make the images change from one to another and Xeno was showing her how to ‘encourage’ the data storage system to show her specific types of information. It was complicated, Revekah thought it was somewhere between learning to groom a nervous cat and do a Rubik’s cube, but she was making steady progress. It was easier to learn the data system when she was accessing earth information and she found there was a lot of information she did not know about her planet stored in the vast memory banks of the ship. She had Xeno bring up a single picture of Geoff but for some reason was reluctant to view the images of her life.
She ate once or twice a waking cycle and was beginning to run out of food memories and was beginning to experiment a little with new and novel tastes and textures. Sometimes she had to give back the botched efforts to the ship and try again.
Each time she felt the need to sleep she would lie on her bed, hold his hand in hers and talk about Geoff. She told about how they met, how they fell in love. She spoke honestly about her struggles surrendering to the feeling of love. It had not been easy to let down her guard and let him into her heart. She had fought it. She had desperately held onto her fear and doubts, focusing on his faults to keep him at a comfortable distance for too long. She talked about how it had been to finally realize the truth and to acknowledge how much she loved and needed him. She spoke candidly about how it felt to make love to him, reliving each tender passionate moment with all the detail she could dredge from her memory.
She found she would look at Xeno’s hands when she spoke to with him. His head did not really have a face and his eye’s held no recognizable emotion. The only emotions she could sense from him were the tones of his voice filling her head. More often than not, she did not look at him at all; she would look at the screen of the data machine or just keep her eyes closed as she lay beside him. It seemed like she could be comfortable with some portion of his anatomy but to look at all of him was still disturbing. It was like she could not resolve that the voice in her head and the thing she was looking at were one and the same. She still could not abide with the idea of looking at the frightening pink tongue she knew lurked somewhere inside of him.
Each time she slept she would dream and it seemed like Geoff would always be there waiting for her. Each time she woke she would be very conscious of a burning need for completion. The sex in her dreams did nothing more than remind her of her growing hunger. She tried to not think about it as much as possible. Every time she would feel tempted to caress herself, to ease the tension in her body, the thought of Xeno would fill her mind. She would see the image of him, whole and frighteningly alien and hear the disturbing phrase in her head, ‘self stimulating’. It made the whole situation untenable. Xeno kept his promise of not speaking about any of this, but she knew he was waiting. This was why he wanted her and not some other kind of alien for a partner.
One night she woke from a particularly disturbing dream. She had been with Geoff again but when she turned her head, Xeno had been there watching them make love and as she looked at him, his mouth had opened and that tongue had come out, long and pink and disturbingly phallic.
Still shuddering in fear she had called to him, “Xeno, I need to talk with you.” Almost as she spoke the lights came on.
Instantly his voice was in her head, “Yes, Revekah?”
“I need you to be here. I need to look at you.”
She stood on the foot of her bed and faced him, almost eye to eye. “I need you to tell me about your tongue. First tell me all about it and then I have to look at it. I want to look at it close.”
Xeno’s voice was surprised, “My tongue is primarily used to transport food into my mouth. My species is omnivorous but our tongues were very adept at catching small animals to consume. It can be extended from my mouth almost five feet or it can retract to a length of twelve inches. It has a bifurcated tip that can grasp objects and can lift up to twenty pounds. In primitive times the tongue was also used to introduce the genetic material into the symbiots for gestation. It is very sensitive to taste, touch and temperature.”
Revekah nodded, “And it’s pink. Why, oh why did it have to be pink?”
“Yours is pink.”
“Yes and I think that is half of why it seemed so freaking weird before. Okay, open your mouth but do not stick out your tongue yet. I will just look in. It will help if you just keep as still as possible in there.”
As he opened his mouth, he asked, “Revekah, could you explain this sudden curiosity about my tongue?”
“I had a dream. You stuck your tongue out at me. It was creepy. I just need to understand this a little better. I think that I have been making my fears worse by trying to ignore it.” She peered warily in past the rows of triangular teeth. “No molars. You don’t chew?”
“No, I swallow my food whole. I have very efficient digestive enzymes.”
Open his mouth was almost big enough for her to put her whole head inside. She peered at the neatly coiled pink cylinder lying behind his teeth. She was close enough to smell the inside of his mouth and she was surprised to find it vaguely sweet smelling, like freshly mown hay. “You have nice smelling breath.”
“That would be an accurate statement if I actually breathed.”
“Okay, you have nice smelling spit.” She giggled.
“It’s kind of weird to be looking into your mouth and still be talking. As much as I can realize the truth that all this is in my head, somehow in my gut I still seem to have to see some lips moving somewhere.”
She stepped back several feet. “Now stick it out just a little bit, just the tip and hold it still for me to look at.” As the rolls of pink tissue began to uncoil and move, she took an involuntary step back, almost stepping off the bed. “Um… could you do that with your mouth mostly closed?” Slowly his mouth closed so it was a slit only a few inches wide, the interior fell into shadows. “That’s better.” She stared curiously as two small almost fingerlike pink tips slowly eased out of his mouth. They were about eight inches long and seemed to quiver slightly. “Could you keep it still like that, please?”
“I will do my best.”
“I know I am being pretty demanding but if we do this my way, at my pace I think we can get through this.” She stepped closer and peered at the surface of the pink things. They looked surprisingly smooth and while damp they were not dripping in long strings of spit or anything gross.
“You are doing very well, Revekah. I am pleased you are confronting your discomfort with my appearance.”
“So when you stick out your tongue all the way, it is almost as long as I am tall.”
“And when you stick it out you can point it anywhere and make it snake around things?”
“Revekah, I have become aware of your feelings about snakes. My tongue is not a snake.”
“I know, but it can crawl around like one, right?”
“The muscular action is very different.”
“Damn it; stop getting all precise and logical. This is illogical. It can crawl around things, can’t it?”
“Yes, Revekah, I can make it do that.”
“Okay, step back as far away as you can get from my bed and stick it out all the way.”
Revekah was distinctly aware of her skin crawling as she watched the impossibly long pink thing extend from his mouth. It seemed to get thinner as it got longer and pointed out straight at her. “Point it some other direction, please.”
She watched in amazement as the long pink appendage moved to the corner of his mouth and pointed to one side. “You can point it any direction, can’t you.”
“Yes, Revekah, I can make it do that.”
Slowly his tongue reached straight up and then down to the floor, finally it curved around his head and pointed behind him. He was very careful to never point it directly at her the whole time. “Okay, make it shorter.” The length gradually shortened until it was only about as long as her forearm. She noticed that the tips shrank until they were only two small bumps on the tip. She forced herself to stare at it and then hopped down off the bed and slogged through the floor to look closer. It did not look like at all like a penis. She gave it a hard look, almost daring it to look like it had in her dream.
Finally she took a deep determined breath. “Okay, thanks. Put it back in. Next time you eat can you do that where I can see?”
“Yes, Revekah, I will.”
“You know I am completely aware of how I order you around and that not once have you imposed your will upon me. I want you to know how much I appreciate that. I don’t know if you realize how much that has helped me with my adjustment.”
“You are welcome, Revekah. What would you like to do now?”
“How long was I asleep?”
“Not long, only about five hours.”
“Damn it, I wish I had a clock or a watch or something. How do you know how long time has passed?”
“The data storage systems have a chronometer as part of their function. I communicate with it telepathically.”
“So I can just think, ‘What time is it?’ and you would be able to tell me?”
“We would need to establish a time reference that would have meaning for you.”
“Like date and hours? We could number the number of twenty-four hour days since you woke me up and add the number of hours, like day twenty-two and ten hours. Once we get to a solar year, you could say one year, twenty-two days and so many hours.”
“I could make that conversion without too much difficulty, but I would also like it if you could begin to become familiar with my time reference as well.”
“Do you have a base ten numerical system?”
“Unfortunately no, Travelers use a base twelve numerical system.”
“Why, oh why isn’t anything ever easy?”
The next time she ‘ordered’ a meal Xeno carried a large strangely textured bowl in one of his other hands. “You wished to observe me when I consumed food?”
Revekah looked at the sushi she was about to eat and set it down beside her, suddenly queasy. “Yes, I guess so.”
“My food is not varied like yours. This is my daily meal.” He held out the bowl for her to look at. She cautiously looked in, half expecting to see something alive in there and was surprised to see a number of greenish looking objects. She looked closer and realized that they were wrapped packages of something. They looked like really large cabbage rolls or maybe something wrapped in grape leaves.
“What is inside them?”
“A mixture of vegetables and protein.”
“And you just pick them up with your tongue?”
“Okay, that’s not too weird.” She picked up her plate of sushi and began to eat. “Don’t wait for me to finish. Go ahead, eat.” She watched as he efficiently picked the packets up one at a time, his tongue retracting into his mouth and almost instantly returning for another. She watched but as far as she could tell they just slid down his throat without any observable swallowing action.
“So when do you drink?”
“I drink in the immersion pool while I am submerged.”
She giggled at the thought of him subsisting on bathwater. “That may be almost too weird. Where do you excrete?”
“I am tempted to try a joke but considering your violent reaction to my suggestion that you excrete where you sleep, I suspect you would not find it humorous if I were to say ‘in the immersion pool.’
“Oh my god, don’t even think that. That is too horrible.” But she was laughing hysterically.
“In truth, I have limited that activity to a room not in use considering your preferences to keep your body distant from your excretions.”
“I appreciate that.”
It was day seventy-two before she could no longer force her mind away from her need. She had woken early from a particularly erotic dream and automatically sent a query to Xeno and found she had only slept for three hours. She requested for him to keep the lights off, and tried to go back to sleep, but try as she might she could not force her mind away from her restless hunger. Her hands stroked the length of her body and she thought back to her dream. She had been swimming in deep warm water and the pernicious tingling and itch had been unbearable. She had begged Geoff to scratch it. He had only grinned his devilish grin and told her to scratch it herself. He had told her he wanted to watch her. She had tried but no matter how hard she had rubbed at it, it had just gotten worse and worse. She had been weeping in need when she woke.
Slowly, almost shyly her fingers found their way to her center. She forced her mind to picture Geoff watching her, his eyes hot and filled with love. When her climax shook through her, she made a soft whimpering cry, “I love you.”
As she lay soft and limp, feeling the echoes of her spent feelings, she felt a little sad and alone. She had an irrational wish for a blanket or a teddy bear as she slowly slipped back into sleep.
Revekah found herself feeling sheepish and embarrassed as Xeno greeted her when she woke. But he followed her instructions perfectly, making no reference to her ‘self stimulation’ in the night. For once she was appreciative of the fact that there was no way for her to discern his expression. His alien ‘face’ looked just as neutral as ever and his voice was just as caring and as warm as usual.
One day ran into another. Revekah was quickly becoming very aware of the sheer amount of distance and time involved in being a Traveler. Eternity stretched out before her and she realized it was going to take an eternity to get anywhere. She studied hours every day in the data room, realizing that learning was one of the few refuges from mind numbing boredom.
She had learned how to make her way from one room to the next and had explored the whole ship a hundred times.
She had tried to imagine a jigsaw puzzle but all the pieces turned out the same shape. When she explained it to Xeno, the second attempt was a little better but she had only managed to get the puzzle about half finished on the flat end of her bed when she went to sleep and woke to find it gone. She had had a major temper tantrum then, screaming at the ship to give it back and stomping on the floor.
Imagining a deck of cards was better. She played solitaire and then taught Xeno how to play cribbage. He was quite good at playing and seemed to enjoy it too. He said that cards were a very marketable concept and that he was thinking about selling the game. With his help Revekah had researched and taught him as many different card games as she could find.
She taught him to play chess and then he taught her more complex strategy game that worked on a three dimensional board. He always won but she could tell she was improving in her abilities.
When she learned he had the contents of nearly every book written in the data banks she began to ask for books a few chapters at a time and began to read insatiably, casually dropping the pages to the floor when she had finished them.
Her hair grew out to about shoulder length and she found it was almost perpetually damp and in her eyes. She had imagined a pair of scissors and carelessly cut it off quite short, only an inch or two long. It grew out again and she cut it again. When Xeno told her that it had been a year on the ship she did not feel much excitement about the anniversary. She just sighed and muttered, “… and many more.”
She found herself retreating into day dreams a lot, thinking hard about Geoff. She told herself that she was just working to keep the memories alive but she also knew it was an escape from the perpetual boredom of the ship. More and more frequently she would allow her hands to slip down and bring her pleasure, calming her restlessness. She told herself that she was giving Xeno pleasure too but she could not bring herself to speak of this with him.
But she continued to feel lonely and it seemed like the more she thought about Geoff the more she missed him. It seemed like he did not visit her in her dreams like he used to. Sometimes now after she had sought her own lonely pleasure she would find herself weeping softly. Finally one time as she lay there in the dark afterwards, Xeno spoke softly in her head, “Revekah, why do you feel so sad?”
She did not even speak out loud. She just thought the words in her head, “I just feel so lonely afterwards sometimes. I just need to feel loved.”
“What would make you feel loved, Revekah?”
She lay there in the dark and thought about that question. She tried out a dozen answers but they all frightened her. Did it mean she wanted to feel wanted? She knew that Xeno had spent millennia wanting her. Did it mean she wanted to feel needed? Again she knew he needed her, he had spoken of that need and yet had been willing to set it aside to insure her comfort. She spoke out loud, “Xeno you love me, don’t you.”
“Very much, Revekah.”
“It is very frightening for me to know that. I am terrified to love you. I love the voice in my head. But when I look at you, how different you are from me, I can’t come to terms with that. You don’t look right. You don’t feel right. You don’t even smell right. All I get from you is this continual feeling of wrongness. And then I close my eyes and I hear your voice in my head and it is music. I am confused as hell. And all I know is I need something more if I am going to make this thing work.”
“I would do anything to make you happy, Revekah.”
“Could you come here? But leave the lights off. Just come and sit on end of the bed like you always do. I just don’t want to be alone right now.”
She could hear his steps as he moved to sit and once he was there she scooted down and sat beside him. “Lift all your arms up and wrap them around me. Kind of hug me up close to you. I need to feel arms around me.” As she felt his arms surround her she felt something slip loose inside her and she began to sob softly.
“Is this distressing to you, Revekah?”
“No, I will be alright. I just need to cry for a while.”
When she finally calmed she took a deep shuddering breath. “Do you remember me telling you how hard I fought loving Geoff? How I did not want to let my guard down?”
“This is going to be ten times as hard.”
“Tell me what you need.”
“Okay, can you rock back and forth just a little? It is kind of soothing.” As he began to gently rock she yawned, “If I fall asleep just lay me down. You don’t have to stay here.”
“I will stay as long as you need me to.”
When she woke, she was lying curled up on her side and when she sighed and stretched, Xeno spoke softly in her head. “Do not be startled, Revekah. I am still sitting on the end of the bed.”
“Did you stay all night?”
“Yes, in case you felt lonely again.”
“That was sweet, but it is not that big of a ship. If I need you I will call for you.”
“There are some things that do need attending to. If you need me call for me.”
Revekah made her way to the data room and began to look up all the information she could find on massage. When Xeno came into the room she spoke softly. “Xeno, could you make some reading materials for me and then could you review this information? I think it is time for me to get used to you touching me and I think this will help. Come tell me when you are done reading this.” She took her book and went to her room to wait. She knew it wouldn’t be long; he could absorb data much more quickly than her.
She was still reading her book when he spoke in her head. “I have finished reviewing the data you asked me to look at.”
“Do you think you could do that? Give me a massage?”
“When you make the massage oil, could you make it smell like this?” Revekah closed her eyes and concentrated on the way Geoff smelled, pouring every ounce of her memory into it.
“I could do that. Do you want me to do this now?”
“Want is a relative word. I need to be touched and held and you are going to be the one that is going to end up doing it. I need to learn to accept that touch from you without my skin crawling. The only way to do that is get started and get used to it.”
When he came in, he had a small bottle of clear liquid in his hand. Revekah held out her hand. “Pour a little into my hand. I want to smell it.” He tipped the bottle up and she rubbed the warm oil between her palms and held them up to her face. Instantly she felt her heart lurch. She murmured softly, “Geoff, where ever you are. I need you to help me with this.”
She turned, lay down on her stomach, closed her eyes and spoke softly, “Turn the lights down to almost but not quite dark. Just massage my neck, shoulders and back for now. Let’s start out gentle and I will tell you how it feels. I will tell you what I need.”
At first it was horrible. Her muscles were rigid and unyielding. Every time he touched her she could feel her skin almost trying to pull away. “Talk to me while you do it. I need to hear your voice in my head.”
Xeno began to recite the names of the muscles as he began to massage them, a kind of a Latin poetry. Slowly almost imperceptively she began to relax, her muscles softening. She forced herself to breathe deeply and rhythmically with the slow steady push and pull of his hands, inhaling the familiar scent of the oil. She was intensely aware that he was using all four hands on her back, his stronger fingers probing deep and his finer hands were just the slightest bit abrasive but it felt soothing.
After a while she spoke softly. “Thank you, Xeno, that is enough for now. That felt really pretty nice. You did a good job and next time I am sure I will enjoy it more. I just need to learn to let go of my fears.” She rolled over onto her back and forced herself to look up at him in the dim light. “You know it isn’t just that you look like an alien. It is a lot of things. I think I am feeling like I am betraying Geoff a little. I know it is irrational but he was the only one for me for so long and I guess I was a mate for life kind of woman. It will take a while for me to make that adjustment.”
“We have all the time in the universe, Revekah. I just do not want you to be unhappy.”
“Hopefully this will help. I will need this every day. Do you think you could do that for me?”
“I would do anything for you, Revekah.”
It took nearly twenty days before she could relax and enjoy the massages. Only then did she roll over and allow him to massage the front of her body, but even then she made it very clear that he was not to touch her breasts or genitals. Every night she would cuddle up to his side as they talked, asking him to hold and rock her to sleep. She found herself asking for the Geoff scented massage oil frequently. The smell seemed to help her relax to his touch.
She found she was thinking of Geoff less and Xeno more and she knew that had to happen if she was going to be happy. She was beginning to think of the scent as Xeno’s rather than Geoff’s and she did not correct herself.
One night in the dark as he held her sheltered in his embrace, gently rocking, she whispered, “I want to lie down and could you lie down next to me, kind of, um… cuddle up to me? Lie still and could you do this one more thing? Could you recite the names of the muscles, like you do when you are massaging me?”
As she lay back in his arms, listening to the sound of his voice and began to lightly caress herself, she spoke one last time, “I am not going to even try to come. I am just going to do this for a little bit and then go to sleep. We will work on the fireworks show after we get good at this part.”
It took nearly three months before she could relax enough to reach orgasm in his arms. She turned to him, dripping in sweat, her eyes filled with tears. Her voice was husky with spent effort. “A lot of work for a pretty small goal, now this is what I needed, please wrap all four of those crazy arms around me and hold me close.”
By year two Revekah had mastered the use of the data machine and was busily forcing herself to become accustomed to a base twelve numerical system. She was also learning the written language of the Kofandi race but for the life of her she could not begin to hear the subtleties of their tonal language. The Kofandi were the most common trading partners of the Travelers and some of the written texts were not translated. She also was learning the universal trading language that all the other interstellar species used when there was not a Traveler translator available. The trading language was made up of a both an audible language and a simultaneous sign language.
Revekah began practicing Yoga daily to help with her continued feelings of claustrophobia and restlessness. She kept Xeno busy with continued daily massages and creating endless little things; like exercise mats, make up, music players, toys. Xeno had drawn the line at candles. Evidently fire was not part of his experience and he did not like it around him. He said something about it tasting wrong in the air. Every night she demanded to be held until she fell asleep whether she shared with him sexually or not. She had made a clear conscious decision to not go crazy.
She still could not say that she loved him. Every time she tried to say the words they would stick in her throat.
It was almost year three when she asked him to touch her sexually for the first time. Taking his hand and guiding it with her own as she gently teased herself closer to her pinnacle. To her relief she did not find it the least bit of a distraction; in fact she found the heat of his fingers an enhancement to her excitement. She spoke softly to him, “That’s good. I like that.” As she arched her body against his hand and trembled in anticipation of her finish, she whispered for the first time, “I love you,” and then the pleasure surged through her.
As she lay trembling against him she held his hand against her face and whispered, “I am getting better at this.”
His voice in her head was soft and happy, “Yes you are, pretty mind. You are everything I had hoped for and more. Thank you for your gifts to me.”
It took another five years before she could forget he was an alien and he just became Xeno. She would still tense if his tongue came to close to her face but she was developing a very marked preference for feeling it elsewhere on her body.
Revekah was rapidly developing a ravenous appetite for sex. And Xeno seemed always to have time for sharing the feelings she was starting to crave. She was starting to very much appreciate a lover with two sets of arms, one set strong enough to lift her and hold her in any position, a second set to caress and touch, and a prehensile tongue that could reach anywhere, and she took very great pains to test out that anywhere theory over and over again. She would giggle and ask if she still tasted like chicken.
She loved to have him hold her helpless and tease her on the brink of explosion for what seemed like hours. She would beg for release but Xeno would murmur in her head, “Travelers are patient, pretty mind. It will be all the sweeter if you wait just a little longer.” Then he would push her excitement just a little higher and higher until she felt like she would die from waiting. When he would finally push her over the edge and then keep up the stimulation as she came over and over, screaming out her love for him, not relenting until she was weak and delirious with spent passion.
Revekah knew she was totally, madly in love with an alien. She found herself grinning and humming. She could not be near him without reaching to touch him, press her lips to his hot flesh, and whisper crazy lustful thoughts to him. She kept giggling for no apparent reason than because she felt so insanely happy.
One night as she lay spent in his arms, drifting to sleep, she giggled again, “Is this what it is going to be like for eternity? Perhaps I did die. I think you are really an angel and I am in heaven.”
By the time they reached the feeding grounds for the ship, Revekah had only faint memories of her life before coming on board the ship. She would look at the pictures and movies of her life on earth with a faint sense of nostalgia and remembered happiness. She still loved to look at pictures of Geoff and remember that she had used to love him. But it was all long ago. It seemed being on board the ship had been her whole life.
She had read all the major poets of the Kofandi and listened to them recite their poems. She still needed to read the subtitles but Xeno had told her that some races just don’t have the neurons or the hearing to learn to speak and understand Kofandi. Still to hear the words spoken by the poets themselves brought tears to her eyes. She had mastered the three dimensional strategy game and had actually won a couple of games. She was not sure if Xeno had let her win or not, but told herself he could not lie about such things.
Her love for Xeno had mellowed to a deep and lasting warmth. She did not dance or giggle as much but she glowed with satisfaction. She very rarely asked what day it was. It did not matter anymore. Xeno had told her she was learning patience. She had laughed when he said that and responded, “Patience for a destination is not patience in bed.”
He responded that she was just 146 years old, barely a child in his eyes. And she wrinkled up her nose and replied he had traveled across the universe to rob a cradle and that made him the worst of old perverts.
The ship had been feeding for almost ten years when Xeno looked up in surprise and commented, “Another Traveler has entered this zone. We have company, pretty mind.”