James R. Lane

 

James R. Lane

 

Short Story - The Decision

 

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THE DECISION

©2012 by James R. Lane

All Rights Reserved.

 

Boneheads Wear Black 

It was a genuine dream-come-true.

It was also a screaming nightmare in the flesh.  And fur.

It even had a tail!

Several people thought I was one of the luckiest men alive, even though they knew I wasn’t going to be alive all that much longer.  A minor detail, they thought---my life was simply going to get better!  Better?  Yeah, right.

They hadn’t thought it through!  Nope.  Nobody, it seems, had really thought it through---

Not even the aliens. 

***** 

My name’s Mike, and I’m a sci-fi writer.  Small-time, really.  Really small-time.  So small-time, I thought, that no one beyond the anthropomorphic (they call it furry) sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy that I catered to would ever care to read one of my novels.  Sure, I had a few thousand fans world-wide, and some of them still hounded me, over a decade after my first (and most popular) novel was published, to write a sequel.  But I’m an old man whose health has never been all that good, and now, with one foot firmly planted on the proverbial banana peel and the other foot threatening to rot off---  (Well, not quite, but hey, I’m a wordsmith!)

The thing is, somebody in a much higher place than I’d dare to dream---and for reasons I’ve yet to figure out---  Well, somebody, somewhere, somehow got hold of an unpublished novel I’d had kicking around for several years, and that somebody must have kicked it WAY up the food chain to a “SOMEBODY” (yep, in capital letters) in our wacky government.

Then the brown stuff really hit the fan because, you see, the anthro characters in my unpublished novel perfectly matched a quartet of alien races (completely different species, in fact) who had secretly opened friendly negotiations with our government.  Not the Russians, not the Red Chinese, not any wimpy European nation, certainly not any of the various xenophobic middle-east dictatorships.  Nope, just the old USA---which just also happens to be one of the most rabidly xenophobic republics on this little multi-colored mud ball.

But yet, despite all of our xenophobia/paranoia/narrow-mindedness, negotiations between the ETs and our people went well, and even though they were held in the strictest secrecy somebody in the innermost sanctum managed to add a few unlikely digits together...and good ol’ Mike’s name popped up in the answer box.

And therefore I got a visit by a couple of SUV-loads of “Men in Black”. 

***** 

If you don’t think the “OhSH*T! bird” isn’t real, you’ve never had two ominous-looking, obviously government-issue SUVs pull up to the curb in front of your house, especially when you’re sweating your jollies off huffing a cantankerous, clattering Lawn Boy back and forth to knock down the scraggly grass that’s crowding out your yard-full of disgustingly healthy weeds.  But a few weeks ago, while I was doing my best imitation of an overweight, gimpy old man trying not to have a heart attack while tackling yard chores, a matched pair of Chevy Suburbans oozed to a stop by my mailbox---which of course blocked the approaching mailman in his worn-out Jeep from making his appointed rounds (he simply skipped me that day, the jerk).  I killed the noisy mower engine and tried unsuccessfully to suck in my sweaty, shirtless gut, all the while failing to completely ignore the invisible “OhSH*T! bird” that was perched on my right shoulder and screaming obscenities in my one good ear.  How did I know they were “Men in Black”?  Easy.  All the windows in the big black SUVs were opaque---illegally opaque.  Only idiots, cops and federal agents cruised around with opaque glass in all windows, including the windshield.

Oh, and the half-dozen mirrored-sunglasses-wearing goons who exited the Suburbans in perfect synchronization were wearing identical “Men in Black” Brooks Brothers business suits, black in color.  In August.  In Florida.  In 90+ degree heat compounded by Florida’s infamous drippy humidity.  Yep, these were federal bureaucrats of one kind or the other, ‘cause only Federales would be so damned dumb as to dress that way down here in the middle of summer.  Boneheads.

“Are you Michael D. Archer?” one of the approaching MiB asked bruskly.

“And you are---?” I countered, trying not to be too obvious about propping my weary body up with the rusty lawn mower handle.

“Just answer the question!” the mouthy young MiB snapped---which didn’t improve my already-steamed attitude.

I looked at the nitwit a moment, then quietly began (but it didn’t stay quiet for long), “Let me tell you one thing, Buckwheat---  You parked your rides in front of MY mailbox, pissed off MY mailman---who didn’t bother to leave MY daily mail, which no doubt contained at least one bill, thankyouverymuch---and are standing on MY property---uninvited and without a visible search warrant I might add---and you’ve brought a crappy Washington, D.C. attitude with you that you damned well better lose RIGHT NOW if you expect to have any kind of civil conversation with ME!”

The spiffy-looking agent obviously hadn’t expected that kind of reaction from me, and it momentarily rocked him back on his expensively-shod heels.  I didn’t know what department trained him, but I wasn’t impressed.  One of the other agents quickly covered up a budding laugh with a hastily-forced cough, but I didn’t let the momentum go to waste.  “Your response,” I snarled, “should be to produce a badge, speak a name that matches it and then state your damned business in that order.  Failing in any of that, you and your friends need to get the hell off MY lawn before I call the REAL cops, all of whom have had proper law-enforcement training AND possess at least basic manners.”  There was that forced cough again, and this time the agent had to momentarily turn his head away, no doubt to keep me from seeing him grin.  That told me the rude thug wasn’t all that popular with his cohorts, which simply gave me more ammunition---should I decide to use it.

“I---uh---“ the twit sputtered, then quickly fumbled in an inside coat pocket and hastily produced a black leather wallet with a fancy silver badge nestled inside.  He made a show of offering it to me, but I refused to touch it, only squinting briefly at the shiny thing---you can buy similar-looking trinkets off the Internet for less than ten bucks---while he hesitantly stated, “I---I’m Special Agent Johnson with the NSA.  That’s the National Security---“

“I know what the NSA is, agent Johnson,” I rudely interrupted, leaving him with his mouth hanging open in evident surprise.  “And yeah, I’m Archer.  I’m also hot, tired and not particularly happy about being interrupted, so the next thing I want to hear from you is why you are bothering me on this miserable Saturday afternoon.  I haven’t made threats to any politicians, compromised any national secrets---I haven’t even cheated on my income taxes, although with what little I can scrape up to supplement my Social Security, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it.”  I made a show of pulling off my cotton NBA-logo sweat band and squeezed a good cupful of perspiration out of it before perching it back on my balding head.

Another agent carefully moved forward but stopped at a respectful distance, and pulled off his Foster Grants before saying, “Mr. Archer, I’m agent Smith---no lie, that’s really my name!---and if you’d please allow me I’d like to press the reset button on this visit.”  He glanced a rusty dagger at his nitwit cohort, then stated, “I’m sorry that we came across like goons from central casting---”  Indeed!  “---but this...assignment...was thrown together so quickly we honestly didn’t have time to prepare---and that includes calling you in advance---before, uh, making contact.”  I frowned but nodded for him to continue.  “We have...uh...a visitor---“ He verbally italicized the word.  “---who very much wishes to speak with you, and if it’s not...um...too much of an imposition, our visitor would like to do so today.  Now.”  He pointed to my modest little house.  “Inside.  It has to be inside...uh...for the sake of security.”  I swear the man looked positively embarrassed making that hairy, hoary statement.

My expression must have mirrored my annoyance more than I thought because when I said, “I’m dirty, I stink and I’d really like to finish mowing my lawn.  Can’t this wait---?”

Agent Smith (who apparently was the real agent in charge, having let Johnson step on his tongue before being booted out of the driver’s seat) offered, “Our visitor is in the second truck, no doubt enjoying the air conditioning, but he really wants to talk with you today.”  Smith looked another dagger at Johnson before looking back at me---and my elderly Lawn Boy.  “Look, I know you’re not enjoying this---chore---any more than I would in your shoes.  What say I have one of my...associates...finish cutting the grass while you take a cool shower.”  Huh?  “Only after you’re refreshed and ready will we bring our visitor in to meet you.  I saw a nearby convenience store when we were driving in, and I’ll send someone for Cokes, bagged ice and munchies while you’re in the shower.   We promise not to mess up your house---is that a real New England seacoast cottage?”  I nodded, slightly dazed.  “Mr. Archer, I guarantee that once you see just wha---I mean, who our visitor is, you’ll understand the need for all this...this cloak and dagger business.”

Nodding my head in resignation, I simply said, “Deal.”

Agent Smith looked like a puppy that had been given a Milkbone; I swear if he’d had a tail he’d have wagged it.  Then, motioning to the agent who’d had trouble choking back giggles, he said, “Take my truck and bring back a case of cold Cokes---Cokes OK, Mr. Archer?”  I nodded.  “Also get a bag of ice, a couple of boxes of good crackers, a nice wedge of rat cheese and a pack of assorted cold cuts.”  He handed the agent a credit card.  “The clock’s ticking---“  The agent hustled and quickly roared off in the lead vehicle.  “Johnson!” Smith barked.  “You have mower duty.  Our visitor will wait in his vehicle with his...attendants...while Jefferson and I accompany Mr. Archer inside to get things ready while he’s having his shower.”  Johnson wasn’t at all happy with his assignment, but when he started to protest it only took one particularly harsh look from Smith to squelch his protest.  Johnson removed his jacket (nice shoulder holster with its Glock “passenger”) and handed it to one of the two agents who were heading back to the patiently-idling, cool-inside second Suburban.

Agent Smith, agent Jefferson and I retired to the house, and the blessed comfort of its droning central air unit. 

 

Hair Today, Gone Today            

My house was old, small and modest---but thank God at least it was clean!  We entered via the side door facing the driveway.  “Only Jehovah’s Witnesses and salesmen come to the front door,” I explained, and both agents actually laughed---a good sign.  The side door opened into the tiny kitchen, which opened into the miniscule dining room, which opened into the small but comfortable living room.  “I seldom have company these days, so chairs are at a premium.  As you can see, there are two recliners, a glider/rocker and three straight-backed dining room chairs.  That’s it.  If our...visitor...can’t get comfortable in one of them, then he’s S-O-L.”

Jefferson look questioningly at his boss, who smirked and said, “C’mon, man, you know what S-O-L means.”  Jefferson blinked, then barked a heartfelt laugh.  I decided I liked both men.  They were obviously doing the best they could with what they believed to be a difficult situation.  It’s time, I decided, to cut them some slack.

“Guys,” I began, “make yourselves at home.”  I heard the old Lawn Boy finally wheeze to life.  Johnson had been pulling on it for the past several minutes to no avail.  “I...I’m sorry I was a bit...harsh...out there, but---“

“No apology needed, Mr. Archer,” agent Smith hastily injected.  “Johnson’s still a bit green, and he proved today that he needs LOTS more ‘seasoning’ before we let him handle a detail again.  I’m really sorry I agreed to let him be our contact man.  The fault’s all mine.”

“There are a few cubes of ice left in trays in the freezer,” I explained, “and some sweet tea and Gatorade in the ‘fridge.  You’re welcome to it while I’m in the shower.”  They nodded their thanks.  “And regardless of what you say, I know you’ll snoop around the house while I’m scrubbing my old hide, so I’ll tell you up front that I have a few guns and knives in my bedroom but nothing dangerous in the front of the house, so one of you come with me and have a look while I dig out some fresh clothes, then close the bedroom door once you’ve gotten an eyeful.  I give you my word that I won’t sneak back in and grab something unfriendly.  Smith shrugged his shoulders, then followed me, satisfying himself that I was a man of my word---which I usually was.  There was a very small, very nasty .380 caliber auto pistol in a hidden pouch in my recliner, but I didn’t think they’d poke around that thoroughly in the five minutes I would be in the shower.

I hoped. 

***** 

“We need to keep a cooler of this stuff in our vehicles!” agent Jefferson chirped, holding up a glass of chilled grape-flavored Gatorade when I emerged from the steamy bathroom.  “As you might guess, the suits we have to wear are miserable-hot, and stopping at a Quickee-Mart isn’t always convenient when we’re in the field.”

“There’s a small Styrofoam cooler and an eight-pack of those drinks in the garage,” I stated, “and you’re more than welcome to dump the ice your guy’s bringing into it and take the drinks for your ride back...to wherever your base of operations is.”

“We drove down from Jacksonville,” agent Smith offered, “but we were...well...flown in from Washington, D.C.”  He looked a bit uncomfortable and I didn’t press him for details, something he noticed and seemed to appreciate.  “There are---things---that will be made clear to you, Mr. Archer, once you speak with our...visitor.”  There were those pesky verbal italics again.  “Until then, I can’t really say much about much of anything.  I hope you understand.”

“No, not really,” I countered, kicking back in my old, butt-worn recliner, “but I’ll be good---for now, anyway---until and unless I decide different.  Fair enough?”  Smith smiled nervously and nodded, glancing at his watch.

“Agent Barnes should be back any time,” he said, “and once we get the sodas and munchies ready, we’ll bring in our visitor.”

“Y’know,” I offered, “I met a lot of different people in my decades as a newsman, and I’m proud to say that I never knowingly offended any of them---including some snooty European royalty types---nor did they intimidate me.  Even the vicious murders, both criminal and government-sanctioned that I ran across didn’t bother me, nor did a few certified geniuses who, over the years, sat in my guest recliner and enjoyed my hospitality.”  The agents said nothing; apparently they knew more about my background than even some of my friends did.  “I really don’t see why you guys are making such a fuss over one ‘visitor’ (and I emphasized the word with verbal quotes).  It’s not like I’m going to roll up onto one butt cheek and fart like a horse---“

Jefferson sputtered into his glass of Gatorade, while Smith simply grinned.  “Please believe me, Mr. Archer---we’re nervous for a really big reason, and it’s not because of you.”  When I arched my eyebrows he elaborated, “This visitor is...is only one of several...others...but once you see him, meet him, I can assure you that all of your questions will be answered.”  Then he added with a strange smirk, “And I can also promise you that you’ll suddenly have a boatload more questions to ask!”

That made me bark a hearty laugh, and as if on cue we heard a couple of car doors slam, and Jefferson looked out the front door glass, saying, “Barnes is back, and Lawn Boy Wonder is helping him with the groceries.”

“Bring them in the kitchen door!” I yelped, groaning to my slipper-shod feet.  “Coming in the front door will only track in dirt and grass clippings!”  The agents weren’t pathologically rude; they actually followed directions quite well.  Within five minutes everything was in order and two of the agents went back outside.

Within moments the engine of the second Suburban quieted, the doors opened and the remaining two agents exited the vehicle.  Then a figure shrouded head-to-toe in what appeared to be an overly-large Muslim burqa climbed down from the truck and, surrounded tightly by the four agents, made its way towards my driveway kitchen door.  Moments later the comical-looking group clattered, rattled and scuffed its way into the house and wound up standing---still in a tight group---in my tiny living room.  When the group swept into the living room I noticed one specifically unusual thing amid a host of unusual things:  All the agents seemed devoid of the usual aftershave/cologne/hair product scents---but the scent wafting from the burqa had a musky, almost feral component.  Was this an Arab in need of a bath?  Strange, since the Arabs I’d known had generally been fastidious to a fault with their personal hygiene, and I certainly didn’t find any of them smelling like...like an animal.

Dun-dun-DUNN!

My friends all knew that, at times, I could be exceptionally dense, and this was certainly one of those times.  Agent Smith motioned for the agents to step away from the burqa-shrouded figure, and before I could say anything the figure reached up with black, fur-covered hands (black? fur?) and threw back the cloaking hood of the garment.  WOW!  It wasn’t even remotely human!  (Jesus, I was dense!)  Here I was, a “known” sci-fi writer, and I hadn’t guessed that the MiB were bringing me a genuine ET!

Well...duh!  Why the hell would anybody bring ME an extra-terrestrial?  Who the hell was I to rate a visit by ET himself?  (Although, I had to admit that this ET looked a lot better than Spielberg’s dumpy gray lump.)  The alien fully doffed the burqa to reveal a man-sized, bipedal anthropomorphic vulpine---male, I guessed, since they all revered to it as a “he”---but he was also wearing the type of feather-light shorts and Roman-style sandals on his canid-like feet that I’d often clothed and shod my anthro-alien book characters with.

“That thing is miserably hot,” he casually stated in reasonable but strangely-accented English, “and I’m thankful, Mr. Aarcher, that your home is properly cooled.”

“I...I can turn the thermostat down more,” I said after blinking a few times, “although as hot as it is outside it may take some time before it gets cooler in here.”

What the hell do you say to your first truly alien visitor?  “Hope you like our leader?”  How about, “If you need to take a whiz, it’s down the hall on the right.”  OK, I didn’t say that, but I could certainly envision some other folks saying that---and meaning it!---although it probably wouldn’t have been all that much out of line, especially if the alien was “feeling the need”.  No telling how much he’d been drinking in this heat.

“Thank you, Mr. Archer, but now that I am free of that security garment, I am beginning to cool down.”  I noticed he was panting heavily, like an overheated dog.

“We have plenty of cool drinks,” I offered, “including an electrolyte-heavy beverage that many of us use to ease the burden of summer.  Since we also give it to our canid...er, pets...if you have no issues with other human-based foods and beverages, it should be safe for you to at least sample.”  When the ET nodded, Smith quickly grabbed a small highball glass from my dish drain and poured some chilled, grape-flavored Gatorade into it, then offered it to the alien.  A sniff and a tentative tongue-lap, then the alien slurped down the drink in record time.  “If you can use them, I have straws,” I tardily added and I thought the vulpine’s bushy tail would fall off, it wagged so furiously.

“We use them frequently on my home world, Mr. Archer,” he said, “since they are far more...civilized...than lapping liquid like an animal.”  God, but I was embarrassed, but apparently no more so than the agents---none of whom had thought to ask me for one.

Moments later I presented the alien with a large tumbler of Gatorade-over-ice, complete with a fresh heavy-duty straw sticking up from the glass.  You’d have thought I’d presented him with the key to the city.  “Isn’t this the beverage you mentioned in one of your novels?”  Before I could answer he asked Smith, “Why has no one introduced us to this...this wonderful beverage before now?”

Why indeed?  And where had I written about anthro foxes and grape Gatorade?  Oh God!  I suddenly realized it was in that unpublished novel, and that’s when I got a really cold feeling in my gut.  That novel’s brutal, unusual ending bode ill for its human character, and the living, breathing, drinking-my-Gatorade “Fantastic Mr. Fox” standing in my living room was peering at me with his green, vertical-pupil eyes like he knew something I didn’t know.

And probably didn’t want to know.

 

The Ugly Truth            

“One thing I need to make clear,” I stated, perhaps a bit tardily, “is that ‘Mr. Archer’ was my father.  Friends and even most of my fans---all half-dozen of them---simply call me ‘Mike’.”  The alien blinked and tilted his head sideways, while out of the corner of my vision I caught Smith and Jefferson bobbing their heads slightly in approval.  “I’m hoping that this is, in fact, a friendly visit---“  I left the comment open, and after a brief pause the alien nodded, apparently in agreement.

“It is, indeed, what you would call a ‘friendly visit’---Mike,” the alien stated.

“Then please make yourself comfortable,” I said, motioning to the guest recliner.  “While none of my chairs are ‘tail friendly’, you’ll probably find that one the least offensive.”  Setting his half-empty glass of Gatorade on the low coffee table in front of the recliners, the alien easily settled into the old chair’s soft embrace.  I dropped my bulk into my recliner, then motioned for the agents to grab what seating they could.  Smith, Jefferson, Davis and one other agent sat down, while sweaty, still-embarrassed Johnson and the final agent leaned casually in doorways.

Once everybody was settled, ET seemed to feel it was time to get down to business.  “I am called Eralak in your language, Mike, although in my language a portion of my spoken name is beyond your hearing range.  Interestingly enough, we call ourselves Yularians---“  I’m afraid I gasped, since the alien paused and nodded.  “Exactly my reaction when your...story...was brought to my attention, and as we quickly evaluated and analyzed it, more and more elements of it matched a cold reality long hidden from your people.”  As my grandfather used to say, a stinkin’ large rat must have run across my grave, since I suddenly had one of the worst chills a man can have in the middle of a long, hot summer.  “Luckily,” Eralak continued, “not all of the story elements were accurate, but enough of them were to cause our respective governments to panic and do a full investigation of you---“  He paused, just looking at me with that tilt-headed gesture.

“And it discovered I’m nothing more than a burned-out, disabled old man who likes to write science fiction,” I finished for him, trying not to look anywhere other than into his strange eyes.

The alien took another long pull on his glass of Gatorade, then said, “Contrary to the panic and paranoia that initially swept through both our governments, we’ve basically come to that conclusion.”  My gut-sick feeling eased, but only a little.  “Still, there has to be some force, some unknown power that fed you so much...accurate...information about the various---and varied---species that comprise our little interstellar alliance.”  My tired old eyes were open so wide, I’m surprised they didn’t fall out of my head.

“You see,” he said, “our people have been in contact with your government for well over sixty of your years, and much of that time has been spent trying to come up with a way to...to ‘break the news’ of our existence to your world’s general population without causing a major panic.”

“Roswell, Rendlesham Forest---“ I began, but he interrupted, shaking his head in an all-too-human gesture---although it also made his ears flop.

“No, I’m afraid it’s not that simple.  This world has apparently been visited countless times over your long history by a multitude of alien species, including the enigmatic ‘grays’ that comprise many of the more...unusual reported visitations.  I can assure you, all of you,” he said, looking around the room, “that none of our alliance members have ever ‘abducted’ any humans, nor have we ‘performed experiments’ on any humans.  Many of the reported visits during your lifetime were even investigated by our people, but we have been unable to determine who the visitors are, or where they are from.  Nor can we tell if they mean humanity harm, or if they are simply curious.  We honestly don’t know.”

“But other than admittedly strange coincidences in my obscure, unpublished story,” I said, “where does revealing yourselves to me fit into all of this?  Until this afternoon I’d never knowingly met an ET, and just the concept, the idea of you being here on Earth all these years, working in secret with our government---“  I shook my head.  “It just blows my mind!”

Eralak yipped, apparently his kind’s laugh, and he said, “Mike, I think this whole thing ‘blows everybody’s minds’.  It also appears to have brought certain...matters...to a head.”  When I looked confused and glanced at the agents, they, too seemed at a loss.  Then the alien dropped his bombshell.

“We need to stop stalling, stop this decades-long waste of time,” he stated forcefully.  “The existence of our alliance must be made public knowledge, must come---as you humans say---fully ‘out of the closet’.  Earth’s humans need to know of us, and of the alliance we formed.”  All the humans in the room were caught off guard, and Eralak’s final comment hit me like a sucker punch---and not for the trendy “out of the closet” remark.  But the alien wasn’t finished, and what he added just made things even more complicated.

“I speak for our alliance, Mike Archer, when I say that, after studying your writings, we believe you understand us far better than the humans we’ve dealt with so far.”  Uh oh...  “We wish to ask you for help.”  Oh no...  “We would like you to be our spokesman, our ambassador---”

Finally finding my voice, I croaked, “I...I’m an old man, a human!  How the hell can---”

I should have known.  The answer was right there in my books---all of them.

Eralak held up a black-furred hand, and even though his face didn’t show emotion the way ours does, I could plainly read the humor in his vulpine expression. 

“Oh...no,” I said, my guts turning to ice. “ You have got to be kidding!” 

***** 

Nope, the furry little varmint wasn’t kidding.

All the main human characters in my stories had, for one reason or another, and in one way or another, given up their human forms and assumed totally anthropomorphic life forms.  Their “donor” bodies were either generic clones, mind-wiped criminals or regenerated cadavers.  There were no biologically impossible “brain transplants”, as were done in many classic sci-fi and horror stories.  No, my plots relied on electronic, computerized “data recording and imprinting”, fancy-sounding techno-babble for “record a copy of brain ‘A’ and then transfer that recording to blank brain ‘B’”.  The clone’s brain was grown blank or the criminal’s mind was brutally erased, and the cadaver’s brain---if regenerated---was, like the clone’s, naturally blank to start with.

But it was one thing to write a fictional story about it, and a whole different “animal” to think it would actually work!

But yet...

“You need to understand,” Eralak began, “why we are so...so interested in humanity.  Your movies, books and even legends have postulated countless times that humankind did not originate on this world, that it was either ‘seeded’ here, or at least was ‘tampered with’ in ancient times, by ‘gods’ or ‘beings from the stars’.”  He had the agents’ full attention now.  While the theory was old hat to me and most sci-fi writers, apparently the agents hadn’t heard this particular speech from our alien visitors.  “We have indisputable evidence of this happening in one form or another, just as we know for certain that the various species that make up our alliance originated from ‘seed stock’ animals taken ages ago from here, from your world.  We all were heavily bio-engineered by anonymous advanced life forms, and each species given our own earthlike worlds to live on.  In time, we Yularians developed space flight, and following archeological clues carefully left for us by our creators we found our other alliance species.  No wars were fought among ourselves since we all knew we were not, as you humans so succinctly say, ‘the top of the food chain’.”

He paused to finish his glass of Gatorade, before dropping yet another bombshell.  “You’re not the first humans---or human-like people---we’ve seen; you’re simply the only ones still alive.”

That comment not only tweaked me; it made the agents very nervous.  Apparently this was yet another “detail” they were unaware of.  Hoping to head off the obvious question, I asked, “And these ‘other’ humans---  What happened to them?”

“Mostly we found the ruins of their civilizations, all-too-often destroyed by apparent wars among themselves.  A thousand years ago we managed to make contact with an advanced humanoid civilization that was preparing to move out into space, but once it realized our alliance was comprised of non-humans it quickly withdrew from further contact with us, and within a year’s time it...it literally imploded into anarchy---and all died.”  The alien’s ears drooped and he quit talking.

Eventually I asked, “And where do Earth’s humans fit into this?”

“We...we don’t fully understand why this last race of human-like people self-destructed after meeting us, Mike---but we are determined that it won’t happen again!  Much of our advanced technology has been...salvaged...from dead humanoid civilizations, but we’d much rather have live humans to deal with, and---“  Here he  paused momentarily to look at me---really look at me---before continuing, his voice heavy with emotion.  “While we don’t yet have the ability to regenerate your worn-out human form, we do have the ability to give you a new body, a form of your choosing based on a clone from one of our alliance species.  With your knowledge of your people, along with your...your positive attitude concerning non-humans, we feel you could help present our alliance to humankind without scaring them to death.”  He looked at me so intently I thought he’d burst.  “And finally, we hope that among your circle of friends are those who...who also might consider assuming a new alien form, all for the sake of averting a species-wide paranoia attack that could spell the end of mankind.”

Terrific.  I get to experience every sci-fi writer’s fantasy---to literally become one of the characters in his story.  Too bad that character was going to die

 

Easy as Pi            

Oh yeah, he made it sound simple---but I knew what he was offering was going to be a screaming nightmare, and I wasn’t just about to let him gloss over those “little details”.  Getting my heart rate and blood pressure back under control, I eventually asked (perhaps a bit sharper than necessary), “Just how many species make up your alliance, and are you---Yularians---the leaders and spokesmen of it, or will we have to deal with a bunch of wildly different people all clambering at once for humanity’s attention?”

Here I got somewhat shocked reactions from the human guards---how dare I speak to their pet alien that way!---yet Eralak only blinked his vertical-pupil eyes and again tilted his head.  After a few moments of apparent contemplation he replied, “Your unpublished novel, ‘Last Dance of the Phoenix’, quite accurately described the four species in our alliance---“  There went that terrible chill again.  “---but fortunately the rabbit-like Ar’kaa are not the conniving, murderous beasts portrayed in your book.  Our other two species, the cheetah-like Eelon and the otter-like Dralorians, are pretty much as you described them---as are us Yularians. 

“Some may view us as being...arrogant,” he stated matter-of-factly, “and who’s to say they’re wrong.  Still, we were the first to make contact with the others---and now with humanity---so perhaps we shouldn’t be faulted for taking the initiative in this.”  Eralak swept his gaze over the shocked agents, finally coming to rest on Smith.  “Regardless of what is ultimately decided here today,” he stated with a resolve that, in itself, seemed to shock the agents, “the details of this are not to be reported back to your superiors, nor are they to be discussed by any of you outside this room.  Your country’s leaders are aware of our desire to reveal ourselves to humanity, and we have their full support.  They will obviously know who we choose to assist us; however, how those individuals assist us is our business, and any breach of confidence in this matter will force us to reconsider our actions---up to and including withdrawing all contact with humanity.”  The agents really didn’t like hearing that threat, and Eralak tempered it a bit by adding, “We’re realistic enough to know that the true identities of our new alliance ambassadors cannot remain hidden from the citizens indefinitely, but we’re hoping they will remain confidential long enough that, once their origins do become public knowledge...it simply won’t matter.”

“Perhaps,” I offered into the strained silence, “we all should take a break and dig into the refreshments agent Barnes provided,” and for the next ten minutes or so that’s just what we did.  To my surprise the alien enjoyed the fizzy chemical cocktail known as “Coca-Cola”, and like a true carnivore he happily gobbled down cold cuts and cheese on crunchy crackers.  Of course, so did the rest of us. 

***** 

Over the next few hours a lot of details were hammered out, and by the time the afternoon was nearly over the alien and I had reached agreement on many of the core issues.  My health was fragile, and I knew this old body wouldn’t last much longer, so I agreed to “become” a Yularian.  The government would dispose of my meager assets, and the alien alliance would provide my clone self with training, financial support and a “lifestyle” as befitting a high-level ambassador.

Including, at my insistence, a companion.

“In human society,” I explained, “an ambassador has to attend countless social functions, and he (as most are men) is generally expected to bring a spouse, or at least an attractive piece of ‘arm candy’.”  Agent Johnson lost it, sputtering and giggling like the big kid he actually was.  “Regardless of the other alliance species’ mating/marriage customs, if you want us---us ‘disguised humans’, that is---to be effective,” I stated, glaring at Johnson, “we’re gonna have to have attractive females traveling with us who at least appear to be our mates.”

Eralak mulled that over for a few moments, then explained, “It will present somewhat of a...challenge...for some since, depending on their social status and financial capabilities, Ar’kaa males may have multiple ‘wives’.  The Dralorians live in family groups that consist of several males and females who freely breed among themselves, and their resulting young are raised by all the group’s adults.  Eelon males seldom pair-bond, and when the female desires to breed, she selects a male for the duration of her estrus, then may never see him again.”

“Our Eelon ambassador,” I stated, “is going to have to portray one of those ‘strange’ ones who ‘pair-bonds’ with an attractive female for substantially more than a ‘few days’.  Otherwise, humans won’t ‘warm up’ to him, nor will they accept any of the others who regularly drag around a harem.  Remember this point:  If you appear too far outside the social/moral realm of humankind, humankind won’t be able to relate to you---nor will it trust you.  Once humanity in general becomes comfortable dealing with aliens---which may very well take years---then and only then will it gradually come to accept the more...alien...aspects of your alliance’s people and their societies.  Up to now, ‘real aliens’ simply referred to humans from another country.  Now you’re asking humans to understand and co-exist with people who are not even remotely human!”

Johnson just couldn’t leave it alone, this time looking shocked as he commented, “You mean---you’re gonna actually marry an alien?  But...but that’s a piece of strange even I wouldn’t want---”

Johnson!  That’s enough!” agent Smith barked, outraged at the young man’s outburst.

Eralak looked confused, so I injected, “Who---or what---did you think would be posing as mates with our...hybrid...alien ambassadors, agent Johnson?  Of course the females will be of the same species as the various ambassadors!  You wouldn’t pair them up with human females, now would you?

“Besides,” I added, “it’s not like I, or any of the other guys we hope will agree to be ambassadors will actually become aliens.  We’re just furnishing copies of our minds to be used to...to ‘animate’ cloned avatars.  It’s the avatars who will be doing all the heavy lifting.”

Oh, did that comment ever agitate the ant nest!  After a pregnant pause both agents and my Yularian guest began yammering for my attention, the gist of their questions being what the HELL was I talking about?  Holding up my hands to quiet them down, I finally was able to state my case.  “Hear me out, guys!  I’ll explain it in terms even those who don’t read Heinlein or watch the Sci-Fi channel can understand.”  They finally quit their bitching.

“Eralak,” I began, “didn’t you say you got a good bit of your advanced technology from long-dead humanoid races?”  The Yularian nodded, confusion in his eyes.  “I’ll bet this...this mind transfer process came from one of those old defunct civilizations, right?”  He blinked a few times, then reluctantly acknowledged my guess, his ears drooping.  “So---does it state in any of their technical information exactly how this crazy process works, how it manages to...to transfer a living mind from the donor being to the recipient?”

He thought for a moment, then slowly shook his head, saying, “I’m not a scientist, and my people don’t actually handle the process---or the machines.  The Dralorians actually made the discovery hundreds of years ago, and they’ve never shared the specific information.  We simply know it works, and thousands of terminally ill or injured citizens of our alliance species have benefitted from it.”

Nodding, I added, “And I’ll bet none of the ‘donor bodies’ survived even a moment after the transference was done, right?”  Eralak slowly shook his head, his ears drooping even further.  “Here’s my point,” I said, glancing at the confused agents and then directly at the alien.  “Despite the high popularity of ‘mind transference’ in our science fiction and fantasy literature, I’m absolutely, positively convinced it can’t be done!  Logic and science, along with most any religion we know of, states that a sentient being has a conscious mind linked to a soul, which is the incorporeal and immortal essence of a person, and the soul either dissipates or moves on to another plane of existence when the host person dies.  Nothing in our science---which granted isn’t as fancy or advanced as yours---envisions transferring a person’s consciousness---and soul---to another body.  Period.”

“But how---“ agent Smith tried to ask, but I stopped him with an upheld hand.

“I’m as guilty as many other sci-fi writers in using such a wonderful, simplistic story element in my novels.  But in reality...in flesh and cold-blooded reality...I’m also convinced that this ‘ancient technology’ they’re using simply copies the electrical brain pattern of the donor subject’s mind---something I damned well know our own human scientists are working on at this time---recording it into some sort of memory module, then ‘plays it back’ into the destination subject’s otherwise-blank brain.  When done, since it now has a ‘fully-stocked’ skull, the destination subject simply awakens and continues living a life that was being lived by the donor subject at the time the recording was made.  But there was never an actual transference-of-consciousness, of a soul, since only a recording was made!

“But---what of the...the donor subject?” Smith asked, defiance in his voice.

“Either the machine automatically destroys its mind---killing the subject---after the recording has been made,” I grated, “or the technician doing the procedure does it manually, either by a lethal voltage pulse or by drug injection.”  The Yularian looked horrified, and the other humans in the room didn’t look much better.  “I’ll bet that, if you were ever allowed to examine records from the long-dead humanoid society this machine’s technology came from,” I explained, my voice going soft and sad, “you’d find that they used it to animate entire armies of cloned soldiers using copies of a single highly-trained soldier’s mind.  No doubt this information is something your scientists and politicians keep secret, and your honest enthusiasm for the process tells me you’ve never heard of or even given thought to such a monstrous thing---but it would certainly explain why at least one humanoid civilization self-destructed.  If you dig deeply enough into the collapses of other humanoid civilizations, this or a similar technology is likely at the root of many of their meltdowns, too.  It’s simply too tempting for a warlike species---like us humans---to ignore, and it’s also too technically simple not to work as I’ve described.”  I looked at each one’s wide-eyed, haunted face.  “And having duplicates of people wandering around---remember, not all terminally-ill or injured people die from their problems---would be...inconvenient...in a modern civilization.  It just stands to reason that the donor’s brain---and its associated body---would be destroyed after the brain copy is made.”  I shrugged.  “Much much tidier.”

“But---“ agent Johnson offered, “if you’re just gonna be killed, and only a copy of your...your mind is...is burned into the brain of an alien clone---“  He shook his head, finally saying, “Why do it, man?  Why?

“Son, I believe---and I think once my close friends have heard what’s at stake they’ll agree---that it’s vitally necessary to do this,” I said softly.  “Our alien friends seem to think that it’s the best way to bring our various species together without humanity imploding, and I happen to think they’re stone-cold right.”

“It also means you’ll die!” Johnson exclaimed.  “The way you describe it, the...the clone your mind will be...driving...won’t be you!  It’ll be a...a copy---like me burning a music CD and then b-breaking the factory original!”  He may have been young and a bit too outspoken for his own good, but he was genuinely upset, and he wasn’t alone.  “It just ain’t right, man!”

Again, I held up a quieting hand and looked at everybody in the room.  “I don’t have to like it, guys---and believe me, I don’t.  Still, it’s my decision to make, and when it’s presented to the other men I’m recommending for the job I think they’ll make the same decision.  Do I hope I’m wrong, and that I---the me sitting here talking to you---actually ‘makes the trip’ across the void to start a new life in a brand new, healthy body?  Yeah.  That would be great, and a hellava lot better than ending my life on a cold lab table, hooked up to alien machinery.”

I took a deep breath, then said to Eralak, “But regardless of what really happens when a smirking Dralorian technician plugs me in and throws the switch, we’ve got a lot of work to do before we reach that point.”  The poor alien was so taken aback by my cold, brutal observations that he could only gasp.  No matter; he’d get over it.  “The next thing we need to work on,” I said, “is the issue of ‘species odor’.”  Eralak closed his mouth with an audible “clack”, his head tilting in confusion.  “Not to be critical of you personally, my new friend, but if you’re an accurate example of a normal Yularian male, average humans are going to find your people, and probably the other three species as well, a bit too ‘aromatic’ for comfort.  While you certainly can’t be expected to change your alliance populations’ natural scents to please our picky human noses, we’ll need to at least mute our ambassadors’ and their mates’ scents, either through bioengineering or by the use of scent masking chemicals.  Otherwise, ordinary humans won’t want to be anywhere near them.”  One of the agents coughed, and another one tried to mute a snicker.  The Yularian simply blinked, his mouth again hanging open in shock.

“And then there’s the issue of breath mints---“  The alien looked askance at me.

“You really need ‘em.” 

 

Done Deeds            

And that, you see, is what brought me, along with three other like-minded friends, to the edge of humanity’s future.  That future begins tomorrow when we four brand-new alliance ambassadors address the full United Nations General Assembly---and an unsuspecting world.  Rulers of the major nations now know of our alliance’s existence, but the minor nation rulers don’t have a clue.  Humanity in general will no doubt poop their respective pants when we’re introduced and walk out into the spotlight, but that’s just the beginning of their problems---and ours.

We have to make this work.  We have to.  Whatever it takes to keep paranoid, racist, xenophobic humanity from self-destructing once they realize, once and for all, that they are not alone---  Yeah, it’s all on our shoulders.  Whoopie... 

***** 

I used to be called Mike; now I’m officially known as Mraeck.  I’m a young-but-mature male Yularian clone, but one that’s been just slightly tweaked to give a more favorable impression to the humans I’ll meet.  My natural vulpine scent was genetically muted, the color of my red/white and black fox-like fur was slightly enhanced, my fur was made slightly thicker, my shoulders slightly wider, my arms and legs slightly more muscular---  Oh, and while they were tinkering, I had just a tiny bit of “masculine enhancement” done, too.  Heh!  Rank has its privileges, you know.  My lovely female companion received similar enhancements as well, to make her appear to be the very best example of female Yularian-hood possible.  She’s now a real looker (for a foxy Yularian), and like me, formerly a human.  None of the natural-born Yularians could be recruited, enhanced and properly educated in time for this to work, so we simply brought a willing human female into the fold.  There actually were plenty to choose from.

We did it three more times, too, since my three friends, now sporting shiny new cloned male Dralorian, Eelon and Ar’kaa bodies, also needed willing female companions to round out our ambassadorial quartet, and no qualified natives were available.  Once the dust settled, none of us complained.  Our sex lives were...  Well, we didn’t complain. 

***** 

We’d all discussed it beforehand, of course, and after the transference procedure, once we’d all awoken in our new forms and settled down, we compared notes and discussed it again.  We still didn’t know if we were simply neurological copies of our once-human selves, or if, as the Dralorian technicians emphatically insisted, our spirits/souls/intellects/essences/etc. actually had been transferred to our new, non-human forms.

One way or the other, one day I hoped to know the answer.  I owed it to my former human self---or formerly-alive human benefactor---to uncover the truth.

Like the draconian decision I’d made that fateful afternoon in my living room, this was a decision I’d had no problem making.

I only hope I can live with the consequences.

 


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