©2011, Pete Koziar, all rights reserved
1. Angels Unaware
“I'm doomed. There's no way I'm going to survive a night in this jungle. I hope the missions ship outran the patrol. If they come after me... I don't want to think about it.
“I don't have any other choice but to ask a native for help. I'm glad I spent all that time during the trip on language lessons, but somehow it doesn't seem to be enough.
“It sure is getting cold out here.”
I closed my journal file, shut my tablet, and sat for a moment, hoping that it wouldn't be my last entry. It was already dark, and there was no sense waiting any longer. I could see the native building through the trees, so all I had to do is walk up and attract their attention.
“All I had to do.” It's so easy to say.
I starting walking slowly, and couldn't help but notice how big it was. The doorway was one and a half times as tall as one of ours. It's one thing to see pictures of these creatures, and quite another to stand in front of one of their houses. I tried not to think of their muscles, and their strong hands that could easily pick me up and break...
Enough of that. I was just scaring myself. I stopped in front of the door, and paused to say quietly, “Dear God, I know you have a reason for stranding me here. I wish I knew what it was, but could you please get me through the night safely? It would be even better if I actually got to talk to them about you.”
I reached up and rapped sharply on the door. Immediately, there was a shrill and vicious animal noise from within. I backed up and barely resisted the urge to run back into the jungle, but instead, sank down to my knees and waited.
A bright floodlight speared me, and then nothing else happened for several minutes. I had to keep telling myself to relax, to breathe. Finally, the door slowly opened. One of the creatures cautiously stepped out, and then sat down slowly on the top step. I almost ran again when I saw that it cradled a weapon in its lap.
We stayed there silently, staring at each other, until the creature said slowly, “Phyllis, I need you to get the camera, and come out here. Just stay calm, and don't make any sudden movements.”
I decided, based on the shape of its upper chest, and the way it wore its fur on the top of its head, that it was a male. There's no substitute for honesty, so I said, “Hello, my name is Twilla. Please help me. I am all alone, and I will not survive the night out here. I do not know what is safe and what is not. I am just so scared.”
The other creature, “Phyllis,” I guessed, came out and sat next to the male, then reached over and tightly grasped his hand. This one appeared to be a female. I said, “Please do not hurt me.”
The male sat there for a minute, and just nodded his head a few times slowly, then said, “Hello, Twilla. My name is Bob, and this is my wife, Phyllis. What...” He turned to Phyllis, who just shrugged, then he continued, “what are you?”
I relaxed just a little bit, and said, “I am D'linwaa.”
He scratched his head and pondered that for a minute, then said, “You speak our language?”
“Not... as good as I should. I know enough to start.”
He turned to Phyllis and said, “If this is a dream, it's a whopper.”
Phyllis handed him a small, flat metallic object. I hoped it wasn't another weapon. He pointed it towards me, and I dove for the ground and covered the back of my head with my hands. He said, “Oh ... I'm sorry. I just want to take your picture.”
I sat back up slowly, realizing that, at any time, he could have pointed the far more intimidating weapon in his lap at me. I still flinched when a bright light flashed at me.
Phyllis cleared her throat, and said quietly, “How can we help you?”
I realized then how foolish all this was, but still managed to say, “I need to come inside where it is safe.”
Bob said, “For how long?”
“I do not know.”
“Why are you here?”
We usually didn't like to get down to that level in the first few minutes of conversation, but I had no choice. I said, “To tell you about god.”
He chuckled, then said, “I'll make a deal. You tell me about your god, but if you come in the house with us, you'll let me tell you about mine.”
I groaned inwardly about the prospect of lectures from primitives, but out loud I said, “It is a deal. I want to learn your language more good first.”
“Better. Not ‘more good.’”
I repeated, “Better.”
We just sat there staring at each other for a long minute, then Bob turned to Phyllis and said, “We need to ask the Lord for wisdom.”
I don't know what I expected, but that floored me. They bent their heads together, and whispered too softly for me to make out their words. Then they sat quietly for another few moments, and then Phyllis said, “The only thing that the Lord has put into my head is that verse about entertaining angels unaware.”
Bob looked over at me and said, “Well, we moved out here to get away from adventure, but I guess the Lord had other ideas.”
Bob stood up first, the Phyllis. She turned to me and asked, “Are you a he, a she, or an it?”
It took me a minute to realize what she was asking, and then I responded, “She.”
Then to my surprise, Bob said, “You can come in with us.”
I grabbed my pack and started up the steps, but jumped backward when that sharp, staccato animal noise erupted from inside the house again. Phyllis said, “Oh, that's just Sergeant. Let me get him out here to meet you.”
Phyllis disappeared inside, but then came back out with an animal cradled in her arms. It was all of a foot long, covered in short brown fur. That was a relief, since, other than the drab brown color, it looked so much more like my fur than the shaggy hair and naked skin of the natives. The little animal also had ears like mine, pointed, mobile, and at the top of its head where they belong. I didn't like the long single nose, though.
Bob said, “Let him sniff your hand. We'll see if he'll calm down.”
I looked at him curiously, wondering if it were a ploy to feed one of my fingers to the creature. I slowly held my hand out, and it sniffed it carefully, then a huge, pink tongue licked the back of my third finger. I jerked my hand away, but Phyllis said, “It's OK. He likes you.”
I followed them into the house. I jumped back when Bob cracked open his weapon, but it was only to remove two red cylinders and put it back up on a shelf. He must have just unloaded it, so I relaxed, but just a little bit.
These creatures really liked wide open spaces. The high ceilings and wide rooms would take me some getting used to, as well as all the flat surfaces and right angles. At least it was warmer in the house than it was outside.
And, if the Norgratz patrol ship decided to come back and look for me, they'd never look inside a native's dwelling. After all, no sane creature would risk it. That is, unless she was desperate.
There was a table in the room with us, made out of one of their huge plants. Phyllis leaned up against a counter, watching me, and Bob sat down, then pointed to a chair. I sat down, and then He said, “So, do you have a ship sitting out in the woods somewhere?”
“No, it left, and took the rest of my team with it.”
“Why weren't you on it?”
“It was an... accident. We had just landed, and then the Norgratz patrol ship came.”
“Norgratz? What's that?”
“This solar system is part of their territory because of a treaty from long ago. They agreed to protect primitive cultures from meddling.”
“Meddling, like you're trying to do, right? So, your team left in a hurry, and you got stranded.”
“Yes. I am not the leader of the team. It is my first trip to talk to natives about god.”
Phyllis asked, “Twilla, do you need anything to drink? How about something to eat?”
I sat in stunned silence. I wasn't thinking any farther than getting out of the open. If my stay here was going to last more than a day or two, I would have to figure out what I could safely eat, and I was already hungry.
She said, quietly, “Twilla?”
“I need to check if the food is safe for me first.”
I'd worry about “tasty” afterwards.
Bob said, “How will you know?”
I reached into my pack and pulled out my scanner. “I need to scan the food and drink.”
Phyllis said, “Well, come on over here to the refrigerator and we'll see what we can do.”
I walked over, and Bob said, “Will your people be able to come back and get you?”
“It is not going to be easy. The Norgratz will step up their patrols since they found us. My team will be forced to turn around and go home.”
“How long will it take to get there?”
“It took us seventeen days to get here. I think our days are about as long as yours.”
“So, best case, they run home, seventeen days, get help, six days, then another trip of seventeen days back? Forty days total?”
“That is about right, if they can come back at all.”
I scanned the top shelf, and found nothing to eat. The genetic structure read as incredibly old, which I couldn't understand. After all, this was just a primitive, backwoods world. I put it out of my mind for the moment, and started on the middle shelf.
Phyllis said, “Do you have any family?”
“I have my parents and two brothers.”
Bob said, “What will they do when you don't come back?”
“My mother and brothers will be sad. My father may not even notice.”
Bob said, “That's a terrible thing to say about your father.”
I finally got a positive reading on the scanner, and pulled out the jar. Phyllis looked down at it and said, “Olives.”
Then she asked, “What happened between you and your father?”
“I have not seen him a lot the last few years. He has been busy with building a new ship, the Davon H'riss, a battleship. It is faster than any other ship and could be here in three days.”
“You think they'd send that for you?”
“It is not ready. It will not start testing for another fifty days. Even then, why would they send the pride of the fleet after me?”
I finished the middle shelf and was getting very concerned. Usually we found more common things that we can eat. I sat on the floor to do the bottom shelf.
Bob said, “What do you do with your battleships?”
“Mostly nothing. That is what makes building bigger and better ones so useless. We have not had a war in centuries. My brother joined the military, and he has done very well. He is going to be the first officer on the Davon H'riss, if it ever works.”
Bob shook his head sadly, “We, on the other hand, are very good at war.”
I scanned the bottom shelf, and found nothing. I turned to Phyllis and said, “Is there any more food I can look at? What is in here does not have enough nutrition for me, or has chemicals in it that make it poisonous.”
Phyllis said, “Sure — on the counter and in the pantry. Over here.”
I stood up and started scanning some jars on the counter. The first one was salt — every carbon based life form we know needs that. Then I turned my attention to a rack of little jars.
Phyllis said, “Do you have a way of contacting your family, to tell them you're OK?”
“I have a communicator, but it could only reach as far as your moon. We were given instructions how to rig it to reach home in case of emergencies, but it will only work one time for a few short minutes and will then burn out, but I cannot do it on your world.”
Bob said, “Why not?”
“The Norgratz do not know for certain one of us was left behind. They will only do a quick check and move on, but if I use the communicator, they will know I am here.”
“Then they will search more thoroughly for you?”
“Yes, they will turn this world upside down and they will finally catch me. I have no desire to spend the rest of my life in a Norgratz prison compound.”
I picked out two jars and handed them to Phyllis, who read, “Oregano and Thyme.”
I said, “This is not going well. I will have to search things that you do not eat. Maybe I can find more foods.”
Phyllis said, “Things we don't eat? Like what?”
“Other plants, maybe?”
Bob said, “Just what I wanted, to go stumbling around in the woods in the dark.”
Phyllis sighed and said, “I'll go with her.”
I said, “Thank you.”
Phyllis said, “Let's find something to put over your shoulders to keep you warm.”
Bob said, “And a flashlight.”
2. Searching for Salad
I had something surprisingly soft and warm wrapped around my shoulders. The jungle was still intimidating, with their huge plants towering over us. I asked Phyllis, “Any dangerous animals around?”
Phyllis chuckled, and replied, “Not really. Maybe a raccoon or a stray dog. There might be bear or coyote farther away from town, but even animals like that are very shy of us.”
I didn't want to think about what horrors she was talking about. I hoped I counted as “us” in the animals' minds.
My scanner chirped, and I looked down at a fleshy knobby thing poking out of the ground. I said, “I can eat that.”
She looked where I was pointing, and said, “Oh — a mushroom. That kind's not safe for humans to eat. Are you sure?”
I said, “Yes,” so we bagged it and moved on.
Phyllis said, “Have you ever done this on another world? Walked through the woods looking for something you could eat?”
“No, I've only been to the civilized worlds, where we can get something in the place where we are staying.”
“Like a hotel?”
“A place where guests from far away stay?”
“Yes, we call it a ‘hotel.' Are we really that uncivilized?”
I paused for a moment, and my scanner chirped at one of their large plants. I pointed to it, and Phyllis said, “A maple tree. That's good news — they're very common.”
We were pulling leaves off and stuffing them into another bag, when Phyllis said, “You never answered my question.”
“You're... more civilized than I expected.”
“The Norgratz reported that you were a brutal, savage, stupid race with nothing to offer to the rest of the galaxy.”
“Is that what you think?”
“I don't know what to think. You and Bob aren't like that at all. Maybe you're not typical.”
“Humans can be good enough to make angels sing, and bad enough to make devils laugh.”
I filed that away until I knew what an “angel” or a “devil” was. I said, “If it was reversed, and you had just shown up on our world, I don't think I would have taken you in as quickly as you took me.”
Phyllis shrugged and said, “We just felt it was what God wanted us to do.”
“I think that's enough of these leaves for now. Can we keep looking?”
“I do imagine a bowl of maple leaves, mushrooms and olives will get boring very quickly.”
We walked on farther, and my scanner chirped multiple times. I looked on the screen, and the targets were moving around slowly, directly in front of us. I crouched down and waited for a moment, then when I sensed where one of them was, my hand shot out and flicked it into my mouth. The crunch was satisfying, and the creature delicious. I could see the potential for trade here...
Phyllis interrupted, “Did you just eat a bug?”
“Oh, I'm sorry. Did you want it?”
Phyllis raised her eyes to the sky and said, “Oh, dear Lord, help me here.” Then she glared firmly at me and said, “I am not bringing a bag of bugs into my house.”
“Well, I guess I can catch my own bugs when I need to.”
“Let's see what else we can find.”
We walked on a little bit more and I reluctantly ignored any chirping from things that moved. We did find more mushrooms and then a spongy plant that reminded me of home that Phyllis called “lichen.” We also found that I could eat some long, spiny leaves that Phyllis called “pine needles.”
Phyllis said, “Do you have enough to last you through tomorrow afternoon?”
I looked at the bags and said, “I have more than enough.”
“Let's go inside. We're going to need to get some help. Bob and I have to go to work tomorrow.”
“Oh — what is your job?”
“I'm a nurse practitioner. It's like a doctor, but we don't handle the hard cases. As rural as we are, I do get to do quite a lot since Doc O'Donnell isn't always around.”
“Have you always lived here?”
“Oh, no. Bob and I moved out here about three years ago. We're from Baltimore. I worked at Sinai hospital, and Bob was a detective in the city. I got tired of sewing gunshot victims up, and Bob... well, Bob just had enough of chasing the guys who did the shooting. I came up here to our little town, Mount Moriah, to work in the clinic. They offered Bob the job of chief of police, and he took it a year ago.”
“What's a ‘chief of police'?”
“He runs the department that keeps order in town. Up here, it's mostly petty thefts. Sometimes the old residents don't like the Mexican farmhands, and he has to make sure they get along with each other. Not a single person has gotten shot in the three years we've been here. We like that. What about you? What do you do when you're not getting stranded on brutal, backwards alien worlds?”
“I just got out of school. I was hoping to work with people, to help them deal with their problems. I took some time off instead to do this.”
We stepped through the door into the house. Bob saw our bags full of things and said, “Looks like you had good hunting. I hope you didn't bring any bugs with all that.”
Phyllis looked at me and said, “If so, I'm sure Twilla will be able to deal with it.” Then she turned back to Bob and said, “We're going to need some help. It's not like I don't trust her alone in the house, but somebody should be here with her, to help her figure out how everything works. If something happened, she wouldn't know what to do. Plus, if we had more people bringing different kinds of food for her to check, maybe we'd find more that she could eat.”
Bob thought for a minute, then said, “The only person I can think to call is Pastor Hawkins.”
Phyllis said, “You think he can handle meeting Twilla?”
Bob shrugged and said, “We don't have much choice. He is a retired marine, after all.”
“But what about those people in the congregation who say that flying saucers are demonic?”
Bob said, “I guess he won't invite those over.”
I asked, “What are flying saucers?”
Bob said, “They're craft that look like...” he walked over to the cabinet and pulled out a plate, then said, “Flat and round like this dish. It's called a ‘saucer,' so people call the ships ‘flying saucers.' They're metal though, not white like this. Is that what you came in?”
I pulled out a chair and sat down, stunned. I said slowly, “You just described Norgratz probe ships. They're not supposed to reveal themselves.”
Phyllis said, “Quite a few people claim to have seen them. Some even claim to be kidnapped and experimented on.”
I said, “I don't understand. What do the Norgratz want here? They should have no reason to visit you.”
Bob shrugged and then said, “We'd better call pastor before it gets too late.”
Phyllis said, “What are you going to tell him?”
“As little as possible until we get him over here. He's not going to believe anything I say to him until he meets Twilla.”
As Bob dialed the phone, Phyllis pulled out some bottles from one of the cabinets. She said, “Since you can eat olives, you might be able to eat olive oil, or one of these others... Here, let me get a bowl down and we'll see if we can fix up some dinner for you.”
I heard Bob say, “Hi, Pastor! Sorry to call you so late, but we've got a problem that we need help with, right away... No, Phyllis is OK, and so is Danny... It's an out of town visitor we weren't expecting. We've both got to work tomorrow, and she needs...” he glanced over at me, then continued, “a special diet, and help around the house. No, I don't think you should send anyone over until you've met her yourself... You know me, pastor — I wouldn't ask you to come over unless it was important. OK, I'll see you then.”
Phyllis was dropping some maple leaves into a bowl, and asked me, “What would you like on your ‘salad'?”
I really had no idea, “Maybe some mushrooms and a sprinkle of pine needles?”
“Is the olive oil OK? Let's put some of that over it, and maybe sprinkle some oregano over it. Want to try it?”
I said, “Yes,” so she fixed the bowl and set it in front of me. Next to it, she also set an instrument with a heavy handle, having several sharp nail-like protrusions on the end. On the other side of it, she set a knife. I just stared at them, then I tried to pick up the nail-thing, but it felt clumsy in my hand.
Phyllis said, “I'm sorry — what do you use to eat with?”
“Usually, a couple of long sticks?”
“Oh! Chopsticks! We might have some in the bottom of this drawer that we brought from Baltimore when we moved...”
She dug around, and pulled out an envelope with two sticks that looked almost like ours. I could have cried with relief.
When she handed it to me, she paused for a moment, staring at my hand. I looked into her face, and she said, “Forgive me for staring. Can I... can I take a look at your fingers? I've never seen anything like them.”
I held out my hand, and she felt it carefully, then said, “I thought they were tentacles, but they're not. More like four little prehensile tails? You've got bones in there...”
Bob spoke up, “Dear, let the poor lady eat.”
Phyllis nodded, and sat down at the table across from me. I hadn't realized how hungry I was, and this strange concoction didn't even taste too bad. It could have used just a little bit of fa'sinloh, and maybe a pinch of...”
The little dog exploded into its raucous screaming, making me jump out of my chair. Phyllis said, “It's OK, just pastor pulling into the driveway.”
As Bob headed for the door, he turned back and said, “This is going to be good.”