“You should go back inside, Liz,” I said out loud to myself after a while. I knew I should, but I also didn’t want to have to face Noise-Maker and explain to them why I got upset. You could always just say it’s about stuff in the past and you don’t want to talk about it. I think they’ll understand those kind of boundaries all right. I nodded to my rational brain and carefully stretched, getting up from the patio chair. Suddenly, a high pitched scream came from the cottage, scaring me half to death. “What the hell?”
I ran through the kitchen to the living room to find a small, strawberry blonde girl screaming her head off at a very confused alien who was trying to pet her. “STOP!” I yelled to both of them, darting to the front door, shoving the girl inside, and slamming the door shut. “Katy Lynn Anderson! Are you trying to wake the dead? What the hell are you doing at my cottage?” I said into the silence as I locked the door and threw the bolt.
“Youngling!” said Noise-Maker, who tried to move towards Katy again.
“Noise-Maker, stay still!” I said to them, holding up a hand. I got the distinct impression that if they had been a human, they’d be pouting. I glared at them until they finally moved back to their place next to the couch, keeping a wary eye on both me and Katy. Thank all the gods, I thought, then put my body between Noise-Maker and Katy, trying to keep her focus on m. “Explain why you just decided to barge into my cottage, girl!”
“What is that thing?” she asked, pointing at Noise-Mark and wide eyed with terror.
I took her head in my hands, more to block her view of the alien than anything else. “Nevermind that now. Why the devil are you here?”
I let go of her, and her face went bright pink. She hung her head and wrung her hands together, but kept her mouth shut.
“Katy, talk to me, or I’ll send you back on the next train!”
“No! You can’t!” Anger showed on the girl’s face. “I turned sixteen yesterday! I couldn’t stay there! They were going to make me have a baby!”
Noise-Maker made a surprised series of whistles and clicks behind me, but the translator didn’t go off. Huh, the curious side of my brain thought, but the rest of my mind was just as surprised as they were. “What do you mean they were going to make you have a baby? I thought they only required you to provide eggs to the mighty cause when you turned sixteen?” I said.
“Didn’t you see the news?”
“You know I barely look at the bullshit propaganda from the city-state. I don’t live there and they don’t give a shit about registered hermits, thanks to the gods!”
Katy put her hands on her hips. “Maybe you should pay more attention, Liz! They passed a new law at the beginning of the year that all fertile women have to become pregnant at sixteen. Mom dragged me into the clinic yesterday morning and this doctor put his hand up me, declared me a virgin, and ran a genetic test for fertility. I know how that test was going to come out, so I ran before they could send me to the Women’s Barracks to become a fuck slave for the military!”
I stared at her in shock. Noise-Maker swore again. Made me glad for their profanity filter. Their swearing, though, made Katy jump. I hadn’t heard about that piece of legislation. “They what?” I said.
“Mom would have sent me to the barracks this morning! She was so excited. There was no way I was going to do that so I came here. She doesn’t know that I still kept in touch with you, and I left all my electronics in the apartment. I need help, Liz! I can’t go back there!”
“Oh bloody hell! You just had to say that last!” I swore creatively for a minute, and by the time I finished, both teenager and alien looked confused. I held up my hands. “Fine. We’ll talk about specific later. Go into my room and take off all the clothes you brought with you, just in case there’s a molecular tracker on them. There’s a box full of spare clothes in the bottom of the closet. See what you can find that fits.”
Katy smiled, her fear forgotten. “Thank you, Liz! You’ve saved my life!” She hugged me hard, bolted for my bedroom and closed the door.
I turned to Noise-Maker. “Well, go on then! Say what you’re going to say!”
“Youngling was upset. I would have fed them to calm them down if they had been one of my brood. Tried to calm with touch, but they made that scared-noise.” They pouted again.
“Yes, well, you’re not human, are you? Katy was stressed out from running away, in shock, and, well, you don’t exactly look all cute and cuddly!” I said, exasperated. I sighed and sat in the armchair. “I will feed her later. It’s nearly an eighteen hour walk from the city-state, so she’ll definitely be hungry once the adrenaline wears off. Shit, she must have been walking all night!” I shook my head.
“Why are they forcing the youngling to reproduce? They can’t be old enough to reproduce yet, can they?” Noise-Maker asked.
I put my hand to my head, feeling a headache coming on. “People with female sex characteristics can start reproducing when they reach a stage that we call puberty. It’s when humans start showing secondary sex characteristics and produce the cells in their body needed to create a child. It usually starts around twelve or thirteen of our solar years, on average.” I rubbed my head. “And I can’t believe I was just able to explain that to you!” I said with a laugh. “I told you, Noise-Maker, not all humans are good. The humans that are in charge of this city-state are fighting war with another city-state over some philosophical bullshit about the people of this city-state being superior. Apparently, someone got it in their head that they need more babies to replace the population they’ve killed off in this stupid war. Or something. I don’t know all the reasons for this new law, but I’ll be damned if I’ll send Katy back for a forced birth of a child she wouldn’t even be able to raise!”
Noise-Maker didn’t reply. When I looked up, they were very still, and their eyes were narrowed.
“What?” I asked.
“These humans of this city-state would take their youngling away from Kay-tee?”
They made a hissing sound that reminded me of a cat, then said something that the translator wouldn’t translate. I would have been amused by the expletive, if the topic we were discussing hadn’t been so serious. Noise-Maker hissed again and said, “I am shocked! Our younglings are fertile after fifty solar cycles, but it is [taboo/sacreligious] to even consider reproducing before two hundred cycles!”
“Two hundred cycles? How long is that compared to Earth?”
They tilted their head in thought for a long moment, then said, “Approximately two of your solar years. The rotation of our planet is similar to the fourth planet in your solar system.”
“So you’re saying that your children don’t reproduce until they’re over four hundred of our years old? Just how long do you live?”
“The Eldest is over 1100 cycles.”
I gaped at Noise-Maker. “2200 years old! Bloody hell! How old are you?”
They made a noise that the translator didn’t translate.
“I’m sorry. I’m just surprised, is all. Is it rude to ask someone’s age?”
“Yes. After two hundred, it is rude.” They hiss-laughed. “However, since you are not one of my people, I will tell you. I am seven hundred of your years old. I was very young to be chosen for our Space Service.”
“Yes,” Noise-Maker replied, then went quiet.
I wanted to ask more questions, but realized that Katy hadn’t come out of the bedroom yet. I stood, making Noise-Maker flinch. I held up a hand. “I should check to see if Katy’s found the extra clothes and whatnot.”
“I hope the youngling is well,” they said.
I went to the front door, double checking the locks. “She will be, as long as she’s here.” I went to the back door, locking and bolting it as well, not wanting to take any chances on another surprise visitor. I came back to the living room and said, “Just… just stay there Noise-Maker. I’ll let you know how she’s doing when I come back out.”
“I understand. Tell them I apologize for frightening them.” They curled in on themselves a little more, then wrapped the afghan around themselves again. What’s that all about? Did something happen to them as a child, or did something happen to one of their younglings? I put that thought aside for later and went into my bedroom, closing the door behind me.
I heard sobbing from the bed. She’d found fresh clothes and had put her old ones in a pile on the floor. I sat next to her on the bed with a sigh, and without saying anything, Katy crawled into my arms. I held her tight. “I know, kiddo, I know. You’re safe enough here for now.”
“I wish my Mom and Dad had never moved to the city-state! I wish we’d stayed out here on the farm! I wish I could have lived out here with you!”
I mentally winced. Brian and Cynthia, Katy’s parents, had once been close friends, but had left for the city-state when Katy turned five, brainwashed by the propaganda. The first couple of years they would come and visit the farm-town during school vacations, mostly so that Katy could see some of her friends that still lived in the small community, but after they became full converts, they hadn’t come back. Katy somehow remembered me and sent me a message when she turned eight asking if I could write to her. I didn’t see why not, since the city-state allowed it. I had had no idea things had gotten so bad for young girls, since all her messages were full of school gossip for the most part. Sometimes she’d ask for life advice, but nothing ever really specific.
You could tell something was wrong, said Nimue in my head. You knew she would come to you, and to Us, one day.
A bolt of terror ran down my spine. The Spirit wasn’t wrong and if Nimue had commentary about what was going on with Katy, then what was happening in the city-state was much worse than the rumors. “I wish you could have stayed with me, too, love, but I’m not your parent.”
“I know,” she replied with a sniffle. “I wish you had been, though. You were always so kind to me. I always knew you were a good person. That’s why I asked if I could write to you. I knew that if anything went really bad, you wouldn’t turn me away.”
We’re not going to cry right now, Liz, I told myself and freed up one arm to wipe my eyes. “Right,” I said in a tight voice. “Are you hungry?”
Katy shook her head. “Who is that in the living room?” she asked, much calmer than she had been earlier.
Oh, thank the gods it’s “who” not “what, I thought. “If you promise not to scream again, I’ll reintroduce you to them later. Their name is Noise-Maker, and they are an alien that crashed in Farmer John’s field last night.” I paused. “Did you hear anything last night?”
She shook her head again, pulling away from me. “I did hear the helicopters last night, but I thought they were coming after me, so I hid the best I could until they went away. I had to hide under one of the large round hay bales.”
“All right. Well, if you want to sleep, you can. Come out when you’re ready, and you can talk to Noise-Maker. They did ask me to apologize to you for scaring you. I think they were trying to comfort you like they would one of their own young, actually, but was confused because you screamed.”
“Oh,” she said. “Well, I was so scared about running away, and then there was this giant bug-person where I expected you to be!” She thought for a moment. “They won’t eat me or anything, will they?”
I laughed. “Of course not. They haven’t eaten me, have they?”
Katy shook her head and laughed.
“Right. Have a bit of lie-down for now, and I’ll see to your old clothes, ok?”
“Ok,” she said. Katy detached herself from me fully and put her head on the pillows. “Liz, why do you call them Noise-Maker?”
“That’s their name. Well, as close as I can get to it with human words. They told me it was near enough in meaning, anyway.”
“And they won’t hurt me?”
“No. Actually, they probably want to cuddle you, since you were upset. They were quite concerned, actually. If I’m understanding them right, they take children very seriously.”
Katy yawned, and said sleepily, “They can’t be evil if they are worried about kids and want to care for them, right?”
“Right,” I said, picked up her clothes, and left the room. She was asleep before I even shut the door.
“Is… Kay-tee… satisfactory?” Noise-Maker asked as soon as I shut the door.
“Yes. She’ll be all right. She fell asleep. I’ll make sure she has food waiting for her when she gets up. Like I said, she’s been walking for nearly sixteen hours and is exhausted.”
Noise-Maker hissed again. “That is…” The translator didn’t translate what they said. It didn’t have to. The meaning was clear enough.
“I completely agree, Noise-Maker,” I said. I showed them the clothes. “I need to go out and burn these in case there’s any markers on them. I’ll be back in a hour, ok?”
“Understood,” they said, adjusting their positon on the floor. I got the feeling that if anyone came through the door to come after Katy, they’d probably get dismembered, no matter the state of Noise-Maker’s leg. I chuckled to myself as I pulled out a bigger basket from the pantry, and put the clothes in it, along with some lighter fluid and matches. I suppose pissing off an apex predator with a Mama Bear complex would be a very bad idea, I thought, then headed to the firepit at the Shrine.
Noise-Maker turned out to be a heavy sleeper. I woke up around dawn from a dream where I was searching for something, but I couldn’t figure out what I was searching for. I rolled over, moved my legs to the side of the bed, and sat up. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and nearly screamed when I looked out my bedroom door to see the alien sleeping in the living room. Luckily, I managed just to gasp and take a few deep breaths. Right. Of course. I brought an alien into my home last night, I reminded myself. Nicer than some folks I’ve brought home over the years. I chuckled quietly to myself, shook off the fright, and stood. All right, Liz. Get to the toilet before your bladder explodes.
I obeyed the mental command, giving myself a sketchy wash in the bathroom sink before I put on my clothes for morning prayers. I found the basket in the kitchen, replenished my supplies, and made a note to ask Brenda for some more beeswax. I didn’t like to scrape the old wax from the stones to melt and repour candles until the equinox, and that was still a month away. I added some apples from the fridge to the basket, then quietly went out to the garden for flowers. Once I had everything, I walked down the path to the Shrine.
The morning was cold, thankfully, for a late August morning. I could feel the Autumn change coming, and the morning’s air had that Fall bite to it. It made me smile, since that meant it would soon be time for a lot of my favorite holidays and foods. Do aliens eat pumpkin pie? I wondered, then shook my head again. Why are you thinking of Noise-Maker as if they were some relative from out of town? They’re an alien, even if they can talk to you! For all you know pumpkin pie would kill them!
Yes, but you will show hospitality, regardless, said The Dagda in my head.
“Of course I will!” I replied out loud. “Why wouldn’t I?”
They’re an alien, said Uriel. They are not of Earth.
“Yeah, and what about it? They are a sentient being who ask for my help!” I grumbled as I walked into the circle. I put the candles on the altar and lit them, refreshed the water and flowers, and lit the incense. I stared at all the statues of Spirits on the altar. “I’d do the same for any of you if you’d decided to manifest into a physical form! They may be different from me, but I’m not going to turn them away. Not from this house. Not from this Shrine!” I folded my arms, annoyed.
Calm down, lovely, drawled Melek Taus. We were just making sure you remembered who you are. I felt a caress on the back of my neck which made me sigh and gave me goosebumps. It’s been a while since you’ve had any guests here. Shame you haven’t brought Brenda around, he said with a sultry chuckle.
“She’s monogamous!” I said, blushing.
Shame, Melek said again, then left me alone. I sighed, brought the chair out from behind the altar, and said my morning prayers. None of the other Spirits came to me, and after their little test, I was grateful for the peace. I sat in the quiet after the last prayer, feeling out the land. Finding nothing to concern myself with, I stood and went back to the house.
I heard movement in the living room when I came in. I peeked around the doorway from the kitchen, to see that Noise-Maker had propped themselves up with the couch, their wrapped leg sticking out a little awkwardly, with the other three lower limbs curled beneath them. “Hello,” they said, acknowledging me.
I came fully into the living room. “Good morning. Did you sleep all right?” I asked.
“Yes. Thank you.”
“Do you need breakfast, uh, food? Water? I’ll need to have food myself shortly.”
They waved an upper limb again, which confirmed that it was their way of shaking their head. “I have calculated my needs. I am similar to the movie beings in that I am a predator species. I will need many… kilograms… of food every eleven of your days.”
“Many kilograms? How much do you know about the animal species of Earth? I mean, do you have an idea of what would be suitable? Are we talking rodents? Cows? Sheep? Goats?”
They looked thoughtful for a long moment. Long enough that I sat down in the arm chair on the other side of the room. They were very still, and I worried that something was wrong. I was just about to get up to see if they were all right, when their head turned to me suddenly. I jumped.
“I apologize. I was accessing data about Earth and the species available here. From what our scientists were able to ascertain from our satellites and drones, many of your species would be suitable for our nutrition, except for the flying warm-blooded species. They are not… nutrient-dense.”
“Nutrient dense?” I said, laughing. “Birds are candy?”
“Hmmm… how do I explain candy to a carnivore?” I thought for a moment, then said, “Candy has a little bit of nutritional value, but is definitely not nutrient dense. For humans, these are usually made of something high in glucose. Mostly, candy is made for pleasure. They taste really good, but if you eat too much you might feel sick.”
They laughed. “Yes. That is an accurate assessment of the flying species. They will most likely taste good, but would cause stomach upset.”
I giggled. “So, will you hunt yourself, or do I need to find a way to get you livestock?”
“I can hunt,” they said, with a glint in their eye.
That made my stomach clench. Crap. I’ll have to set some rules for Noise-Maker, or there will be big problems! “Ok, so, um… you probably should hunt at night. And you can’t take the livestock. Anything animal surrounded by a gate, fence, or pen, or large groups of the same animal in a field. If you kill the livestock, they’ll find you faster because people will start wondering where the cows went and start looking. Gods know we don’t need Farmer John to take it in his head to go coyote hunting because his cows are missing! There’s plenty of woods though, and since most people live in the city-states these days, many large animal populations have returned. Hold on,” I said and went to find my map. It was a satellite map I’d had printed of my house and the surrounding lands, so that I had a paper copy if I ever needed it. I laid it out on the floor. Noise-Maker tilted their head and leaned over. “Ok, you see this area here outlined in red? That’s my house and the land around it. You can hunt my land, for sure, but I’m not sure how much you’ll find. Probably mostly small animals. Over here is the farmer’s lands where your ship crashed. John’s probably already raising hell with the city-state agencies about the damage to the fields and animals. You’ll want to avoid all his lands. The woods in this direction are all city-state preserves, which, if you keep a low profile and don’t get too greedy, you could probably hunt successfully without any issues. You’ll want to avoid all the roads, though. They keep cameras on the roads.”
“Why are you protecting me?” they asked.
“I promised my gods that I would protect all those who come to me for help. I made that vow a long time ago. You asked for my help, so I will do my best to protect you.”
They stared at me for a long moment, then put their forelimb on my shoulder. “I thank you, friend Elizabeth. I will memorize map.”
“Yes,” they said and tapped their head. “We utilize logic to memorize data. Computer data storage is mostly for archival purposes or for data sets that are very large.”
“Oh. Wow. Ok. Well, I’ll leave you to it while I make my breakfast, if you don’t mind?”
They waved their forelimb in the negative again, then moved their body into what would have been a loaf position if they were a cat, with their bad leg sticking out. They tilted their head, focused on the map, and went very, very still.
Huh. Interesting, I thought. I watched them for a moment, then went into the kitchen to make myself some oatmeal with apples.
When the oatmeal was done, I ate a bowl of it at the table, not wanting to disturb my guest. I cleaned up the dishes and put away the left overs, then went back into the living room. I sat in the arm chair across from Noise-Maker, amazed that they hadn’t moved for nearly an hour. After another ten minutes, I got restless, and went to kitchen to read the news on my tablet. Strangely, there was nothing on the news about Noise-Maker’s ship, even in the local forums. That was the biggest surprise, especially since John was usually pretty vocal about everything that disrupted his orderly little world. Then again, I thought, the city-state has no problem deleting anything on the internet that it doesn’t want seen. I let out a sigh. Typical.
“Where are your mates and young?” asked Noise-Maker suddenly from the living room doorway, making me jump.
I came back to the living room, Noise-Maker going back to their seat next to the couch. “Uh. Well…” I began, as I sat in the armchair again, but didn’t know exactly how to answer them. “I live here alone, Noise-Maker,” I told them, more tersely I meant to.
They blinked and moved back a little, stretching out their legs. “I apologize if that was a rude question. It was a thought I had while memorizing that I stored for asking.”
I rubbed my hands over my head. They’re just curious, Liz. They didn’t meant to hurt you. I felt my eyes tear up, and I wiped the tears away. “Uh…” I said again, coughed, then started over. “It’s a complicated story, Noise-Maker.”
“You are a…” they said, but the translator didn’t translate the word. Noise-Maker made a few clicking sounds and tried again. “You are an Alone-By-Choice person?”
I frowned. “I suppose that is mostly accurate. In our language, we call such people hermits.” The translator trilled and I stared at it. “Why didn’t it translate the first word you said?”
“The initial word is…” they began, thought for a moment, clicked, then continued, “The translator has inaccuracies. It will learn as we converse.”
“Oh, I’d wondered. It seemed to be better at translating this morning compared to last night. Fascinating.” I tried to keep a smile on my face. I had the feeling that Noise-Make had meant to say that the original word was impolite, though.
Noise-Maker hiss-laughed. “Yes. It is a good device.” It sounded almost as if they were talking about a dog.
“Is the translator an artificial intelligence?” I asked, trying to steer clear of their original question.
They cocked their head and stared at me for a moment. “It is an intelligent tool, yes. It is good to treat all creations with respect, is it not?”
“I believe we should, and I do the best I can, but not all humans feel that way. A lot of humans only see what can be gained from tools like your translator.”
“Is that part of the fear I smell from you? That other humans will not treat me with respect?”
They smell fear?
They are a predator, child, said Hecate.
I frowned. “To be honest, Noise-Maker, I fear that other humans will kill you and hurt you. Not everything in our fiction is a lie.” I stared at my hands. “I’m sorry, but I won’t lie to you and give you the idea that all humans are good. In fact, most humans barely tolerate different skin colors, let alone a completely different species. You’re better off seeing if you can get some sort of signal to your people and getting the fuck off this planet. Honestly, your people shouldn’t have bothered with us.” I got up and left the cottage.
The sun was higher in the sky and the dew had evaporated. I took several deep breaths to calm myself. I had very little faith in my fellow humans, not to mention a lot of anger at them, and I didn’t know how much I really could protect Noise-Maker, especially at my age. I knew what I’d vowed to do, but, right at that moment, I wished I’d never made that vow.
I brought the alien into the sitting area of the cottage, moving the coffee table out of the way so that they had a clear place to sit. “Give me a minute to get my first aid kit,” I told them as they settled on the floor. I went to the pantry and found the bright orange case, and filled a bowl with water, just in case it needed something to drink. Not that I was really sure if they drank water or how it managed it. I put the bowl on the coffee table and opened up the first aid kit on the small couch. The alien took up most of the floor, but had carefully folded their bottom limbs underneath themselves.
“Uh…” I started, unsure what to do next.
“Need help with suit,” it said. “Helmet non-functional. Limbs. Cannot reach helmet switch.” It paused, looking at me. “Might frighten you.”
“Well, yes, the way you look might scare me a little. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frightened by all this,” I said. “You aren’t going to eat me are you? Or lay eggs in my stomach?”
“No!” it replied, rather vehemently. “Why think that?”
I laughed. “You haven’t watched many human movies about alien invasions, have you?”
“I have. Some ideas in entertainment very… human.”
“Well, I suppose they are,” I said. “So, button in the back, right?”
“Yes. Button, back of head. Remove helmet.”
“Right. Can you move around so I don’t have to climb over your limbs?”
“Yes,” it said, then they shifted carefully around, favoring one of their back legs, until the back of their head was facing me. Compared to the rest of the suit, the back of the helmet seemed simple enough, with a large green button where the suit and helmet attached.
“I just press it?” I asked, double checking.
I did as they instructed, and with a hiss and a click, the helmet detached from the suit. The alien lifted it’s limbs and carefully pulled the helmet off, revealing dark, green-gray skin and a long head. Their mouth was also long and showed a lot of teeth. Just my luck, the first alien I meet looks like one that requires Siguourny Weaver to come and kill it. I took a deep breath and did my best to ignore what they looked like. “Ok, so that’s off. Now what?” I said, trying to sound calmer than I actually was.
It turned around again showing it’s full face. I blinked. The skin looked wet, but there wasn’t drool or anything weird dripping from it like in the movies. It’s breathing sounded a bit easier now that the helmet was off, but that was only a guess on my part. It sighed and said something in irritation, which didn’t get translated. I wonder if they have a swear filter on their translator? The thought made me chuckle.
It tilted it’s head and looked at me. “Amused noise. Why?”
“Oh! I was wondering if your translator had a… hmmm… an expletive filter? The sound you just made seemed like you were annoyed.”
It made a high pitched whistle-hiss that I assumed was a laugh. “Yes. It is… filtered. Expletives not… polite.”
I grinned. “Huh. That’s something we sort of have in common, then. Although, humans tend to use expletives more like adjectives in the last few hundred years. Some of our cultures have even incorporated them into daily speech without thinking them impolite.” I blushed. “Sorry for babbling. I used to dabble in linguistics. I’m also a theologian. I tend to talk a lot.”
“Understand. We, too, have interesting… linguistics.” It tilted it’s head again. “What is theologian?”
I looked at their suit, then said, “Um, that’s a longer conversation, I think. Why don’t we get this suit off of you and patch you up for now?”
“Yes. You are wise,” it said. “Press button again.”
I pressed the green button again. A slit opened up in the fabric along it’s back and the metal part where the helmet met the suit snapped in half. It took some doing, but I managed to help it untangle it’s limbs from the cloth. Once they were out of it, they pressed the panel that had the translator and the suit folded in on itself, forming a cube of electronics. It was about the size of a small carryon suitcase and had blinking lights in green and white. I looked over it’s body– I can’t keep calling them “it”. No, I should ask about pronouns and such. I gave myself a mental kick for not asking sooner. “Um… do you have a name? And what pronouns should I use for you?”
“Name. Yes. Humans not able to pronounce.”
“I could try. Say it for me?”
“Yes. It is–” and it spoke a series of sounds, whistles and clicks. It was short, but there was no way I would be able to wrap my tongue around it.
“Ok, you were right. I don’t think I’d be able to pronounce it.” I frowned. “Maybe if I had a long time to study it, or…” I shook my head. “Does it have a meaning?”
“Sure. Some human names have a meaning to them. Regina means ‘queen’ or Noah comes from a character in one of our holy books. I think it has other meanings, too, but I don’t remember them. A lot of humans like to have names that mean something that they think will bring their children good fortune or a particular quality.”
“Understood. Name represents mathematical construct that reflects personality,” it said. “Give human name?”
“Hmmm…Let me think…” A human name? Nothing I could think of seemed to fit. “Why don’t I give you a use-name? Some cultures have names that use descriptive words instead of a formal name. I could call you Noise-Maker, since that’s how you came to me.”
It did the hiss-laugh. “Name is close to mathematical name. I approve.”
I let out a sigh of relief. “Great. So, pronouns?”
I blushed. “Uh, do you have a gender? Or no gender?”
“Gender? Ah, yes. Humans have binary gender, correct?”
“Well, biological sex characteristics are somewhat binary, but gender is… complicated. Primarily binary male and female, but we also have non-binary people, agender, etc.,” I attempted to explain.
“Gender is also complicated for my species. We have six.”
“Wow. Ok. Why don’t we save the birds and the bees discussion for later. I’ll just use they/them for you. Uh, that is, gender neutral. It’ll be easier and more polite than calling you ‘it’, I think.”
“Human pronouns do not bother me,” they said. They tried to adjust themselves, then hissed in what I as guessing as pain, since it didn’t sound like the laugh. “Pain,” they said, which confirmed my guess.
I looked at them, and the gray-green skin had splotches of yellow-green that looked like bruises all over their body. “What hurts? Are you cut?”
They moved their upper limb in a dismissing motion. “Skin not broken. One leg in pain.”
“Let me see?”
Noise-Maker shifted, laying more of their body on the floor, then gingerly held out their right back leg to me. I lowered myself to the floor with a groan and examined the leg. The whole leg was bruised and was a darker gray-yellow-green. The knee-type joint and what I assumed was the ankle were twice the size of the other legs. I touched it gently, and like human inflammation, it was warm. I gently used my fingers to prod it, making Noise-Maker hiss in pain again. “Well, if you were human, I’d say you’d sprained and bruised your leg badly. Usually, if we can feel pain in our limb, we haven’t broken a bone, or it’s not so bad a fracture as to separate the bone. All we can really do is wrap the sprain so that you don’t try to use it as much while it’s healing. I’d also give you some anti-inflammatories for the pain, but I’m not sure if any of our drugs would work or worse, kill you.”
“Yes, wrapping. Have limited medications from suit.” They gave a whistle-click and a panel on the case opened and a needle emerged. They put a finger from their upper limb on it, and then sighed in relief. “Forgot,” they said and did the hiss-laugh again.
“Glad to see that forgetting stuff when stressed is a universal thing.” I grinned and pulled both compression wraps from the first aid kit. “Ok, Noise-Maker, let me know if I’m wrapping too tight,” I said and got to work. They hissed when I started, and let me know when it was too tight as I wrapped. When I finished wrapping the leg, they seemed to relax more.
“I thank you,” they said.
I scootched back to put my back to the couch. “You’re welcome,” I said. We were quiet for a long moment, then I remembered the bowl of water. “Uh, are you thirsty? I have a bowl of water for you. Wasn’t sure what would be easy for you to drink out of, though.”
“Yes. Thirsty,” they said, slowly. “Tired.”
I nodded. “I can imagine. I suppose if you’re anything like us in that respect, whatever adrenaline-like response you have in your body from the crash is wearing off now.”
I used the couch to haul myself up off the floor so I could get the bowl from the coffee table. Noise-Maker took it carefully in their limbs when I held it out to them, almost as if they were afraid to break it. They brought it up to their mouth and, to my surprise, drank without spilling any. While they drank the water, I packed up the first aid kid and brought it back to its home in the pantry. When I came back into the living room, Noise-Maker had put the empty bowl on the floor and rested their head on the couch again, eyes closed.
“Do you need more water? Do you want a blanket? Are you cold?”
The eye on the side of their head that was free opened. “Cold? Yes. Water, no.”
I nodded, then pulled the afghan off the couch and covered them with it. “Is the floor all right?”
“Ok. Um. Well, I’ll be in the next room,” I said, pointing to my bedroom door. “I’ll leave the door open, so if you need anything, you can wake me up. Oh, um. I have a human toilet, but…”
Noise-Maker hiss-laughed without opening their eyes. “Defecation chamber unnecessary for me for several days. Will discuss after sleep.”
“Oh. Ok. Great. Good night, then, Noise-Maker,” I said.
“Best sleep, friend human,” they said.
“Best sleep, friend Elizabeth,” they repeated, and curled all but the sprained limb in on themselves.
I went into my own room and changed into a nightgown. I have an alien in my living room, I thought, shocked at my own lack of fear. Like I’d told them earlier, I was afraid of them a little, but if I was really honest, I was more afraid of the possibility of Noise-Maker being found out by other humans. Gods, let me figure out how to keep them safe until they can figure out a way to go home, I prayed, then laid down on my bed. It was a long time before I could actually sleep.
I double checked the calendar on my phone. New Moon tonight. Right, I thought. I’d already had my dinner and was waiting for the sun to set before going out to the Shrine. I put the kettle on and stared out the kitchen window as I cleaned up the dishes, dried them, and put them on their shelves. Picking up the basket near the door, I examined it to make sure I had all I needed for the Shrine. Everything was in order, except for a bottle of water. I took one down from a shelf, filled it, and added it to the basket.
The kettle whistled, and I poured myself a mug of tea. I took it, and the basket, to the patio behind my small cottage. It was late dusk, so once I put everything down on the table, I lit the electric lantern I kept by the back door. It wasn’t bright enough to ruin my night vision, but it was enough so I wouldn’t trip on the path to the Shrine. I sat and drank my tea as the sky turned from gold to red to blue. I’m glad I decided to wear my sweater, I thought as the temperature dropped. I let my eyes adjust to the growing darkness, staring at the stars as they winked into existence. I smiled. The beauty of the night sky in the country never got old.
I finished the tea as the sun fully set, stood up slowly give my old legs, then picked up the lantern and basket. I set out for the path to the Shrine. I’d taken it so many times that I really didn’t need the lantern anymore, but I also didn’t want to break a bone then have to get taken to the nearest city-state for treatment. I frowned. City-states! More like cults, I grumbled in my head. So many people trying to tell other people what do to and how to be. They barely tolerated anyone who lived outside their borders, let alone crusty old hermits who worshiped the Old Spirits. No, better to have the lantern than to be taken there.
The Shrine wasn’t very far, only a couple hundred meters as the crow flies. Maybe about three hundred because the path twisted a little. Memories when others walked this path with me came into my mind. People who were long converted or long dead. I pushed those memories away. Focus on the task at hand, witch, I told myself, shaking my head. Witch. Such a loaded term for some, even though there were many words for those who worked with Spirits: Witches. Shamans. Magick workers. Mediums. Empaths. Root Workers. Bruja. Strega. Santero. Babalawo. So many words. So many lost now. I sighed and continued walking.
Soon, the path opened up into a large circle of Earth surrounded by trees and bushes. The center of the circle had a pit in the middle that was large enough to hold a decent size fire. In three directions were stone pedestals that had the wax of years of candles dripped down the sides. In the north stood a lean to with a large, stepped, stone altar inside. It, too, was old, and nearly every centimeter of it’s surface was covered with statues of Spirits. Some were native to the land that my little cottage occupied, but other were from far distant lands. Many were brought by students or friends as gifts. A few were ones I made myself when the Spirit in question made itself known to me and wanted to be added. These days, I rarely had new visitors of either kind, but every now and again a statue would appear near my front door. When it did, I would take it in, clean it up, then bring it out to the Shrine to find it’s rightful place. I would honor them with the others, whether I knew who they were or not.
Since it was the New Moon, I didn’t light candles on the stone pillars. I took my basket to the altar, replaced the candles on the middle step of the altar, and lit them. I poured water in the offering bowl, then added the fruit and flowers that I had brought for the offering. I added a fresh charcoal to the incense bowl, lit it, and inspected the statuary while I waited for it to turn red. Satisfied that nothing had been disturbed since my morning offerings, I dragged the old wooden chair out from behind the altar and sat down to begin my prayers, closing my eyes.
A bright flash of light and a loud booming sound interrupted me mid-prayer. I turned towards it, but then a strong gust of wind blew through the trees, nearly knocking me off my chair. I managed to stand up, holding on to the chair to steady myself, as the wind died down. “What in the world?” I said out loud, taking up the lantern and heading down the path that lead to the open fields that were used for the industrial farms. I moved as quickly as I was able or dared to in the darkness, and when I got to the treeline, I heard the sounds of helicopters above me. I only saw them as blank spots in the sky that blotted out the stars. I turned off the lantern and backed into the trees as the searchlight moved over the fields. I wonder what they’re looking for? Maybe it was an experimental aircraft that crashed? I watched as they circled around, then finally land at the end of the field.
I stood, transfixed and curious, watching people get out of the helicopters and disappear in the lighted area for a bit. I heard voices yelling, but they were too far away to know what they were saying. I wasn’t sure how long they took, but after a while, the people appeared again and went back into the helicopters. They then all lifted off at the same time, carefully maintaining space and distance. I wonder what they’re doing? I thought, but then stared in wonder as they pulled up the remains of what was once a saucer-like craft. Half of it was sparking and dented in, as if something took a huge bite out of it, while the other half was smooth and reflected the spotlights like a mirror.
I stared at it until I realized what direction they were heading. Shit! I thought and ran as fast I could down the trail back to the Shrine. I blew out the candles on the altar and huddled in the back of the lean-to, hoping that they hadn’t seen me. Or, at the very least, if they saw the circle, they’d ignore it, assuming I was in my cottage. I was registered with the city-state as a hermit, so they wouldn’t bother with me. Or so I hoped.
I stayed in the lean-to, praying silently to the Spirits, trying to keep my breathing steady, until I could no longer hear the sounds of the helicopters. When it was quiet again, except for the usual forest sounds, I let out a sigh of relief, relit the altar candles, and a new charcoal, as the one I’d lit previously had burnt out. I gave up my regular New Moon prayers as a lost cause. I took the box of incense out of the basket, opened it and added it to the charcoal once it was red, then took some deep breaths, thinking I’d just go back to the cottage and have some tea.
A branch broke, making me jump. I turned to face the middle of the circle, but couldn’t see anything. I picked up the lantern and turned it back on, illuminating the circle, but not much else. Another branch broke, as if someone was walking towards the circle, but with a really long stride. I froze, wishing I had my hunting rifle, but I never brought weapons to the Shrine. Another broken branch sounded, then a rustle. One of the bushes lining the circle shook. I couldn’t move. Part of me was curious, but part of me was terrified. Could it be an alien from that ship? What if it wasn’t friendly?
A part of me scoffed. Humans aren’t that friendly. Could you blame it if it was running from the people in the copters? I had to admit, I’d probably do the same.
Something, or rather someone, fell out of the bushes in a heap cloth and metal. They were wearing a suit of some kind over long limbs that had a helmet. I picked up the lantern and moved slowly and cautiously around the circle until I got to a point where I could see the being clearly. I hoped I’d put myself in a spot where it could see me with whatever it had for eyes. There was a breathing sound coming from it, and when I lifted my lantern I saw that the helmet was cracked, as the top was crazed like broken glass. It reached out a limb slowly, then put it down.
“Hello?” I said.
It made sounds that were ordered and patterned like a language, but with clicks and whistles.
“Uh, I’m sorry. I don’t understand,” I said, feeling a bit silly. “Hmmm…” I touched my arm. “Are you hurt?” I touched it again and said “Ow?”
It took another breath, said something else in the tone of irritation, which I imagined was probably some sort of swear, then slowly moved one of it’s limbs to an electronic pad on the suit. It spoke again, then a few seconds later a computerized voice said, “Hu-man. Apology for surprise. Help.”
I felt my eyes go wide. “Holy shit! You have a translator?” I said, my inner science fiction nerd cackling with glee.
“Yes,” it said. “You. Not afraid?”
“Well, honestly, I am a little. But I think my curiosity is winning. To be fair, I’m more afraid of my own people, really. Oh, and there is part of me dreamed of meeting an alien one day,” I babbled.
“Good. Help. Hurt skin. Not bad. Need help. Clean and protect wounds?”
“Uh, well, sure. I have a first aid kit back in the cottage, but, we’ll have to test things. I don’t know what will work or if any of our medicine would hurt you.” I stared at the broken helmet. “Can you survive outside the suit?”
“Yes. Hu-man planet similar to [unintelligible word]. Home planet. Help. Please.”
I came closer. “Yes, I’ll help you. Can you walk? My cottage is just down the path and more comfortable than the Shrine.”
“Will attempt. Slow,” it said.
“Yes, of course,” I said, and lifted the lantern in one hand so it had more light, then moved forward and held out my arm in case it needed something to steady itself. It stared at the held out arm, but didn’t take it. Instead they slowly managed to get onto four of it’s limbs to stand, holding out two other limbs and a tail. After a moment, it lowered the top limbs and tail, then nodded to me.
“Great! Oh! My basket! One moment!” I ran over to the Shrine and picked up the basket, throwing the bottle and incense in it, then scurried back over to the alien. “Ok. Follow me!” I said, and started down the path to the cottage. I walked slowly, for the alien’s sake. They hissed in pain every few steps, but were able to keep up. It’s a good thing I’m an old human woman and have to walk this slow, I thought.
I didn’t know what was going to happen, as we reached the cottage and I let the alien in, but the Spirits led it to my Shrine. By my vows, I would do my best to help this being, one way or another.
As of yesterday, the entire novel of “Survey” is now available on the Tales from Flat Space Podcast! So, if you prefer audiobooks, you can now binge the entire book!
This Friday, I’ll be starting my read of “Unity” live on my Twitch stream on Fridays at 9 pm Central European time (3 pm Eastern/ Noon Pacific US), with the podcast episode approximately a week later.
You can also check out my book page for links to all the platforms that carry Tales from Flat Space and links to the books if you’re impatient!
In today’s society, it’s common to hear stories of long-term partners demanding their significant other spend all their free time with them, abandoning their hobbies and interests in the process. This societal norm is even promoted in TV shows and movies as being “romantic” when, in reality, it’s anything but.
As a child, my parents encouraged me to pursue my interests and hobbies, and they did the same for each other. My mom never stood in the way of my dad’s hunting or fishing trips, and he supported her as she pursued her bachelor’s and master’s degrees while also nurturing her passion for art.
This same attitude is something I carry with me today in my relationship with my wife. We are not each other’s parents or children; we are two individuals who are in love and committed to each other but also respect each other’s personal space and interests.
Controlling your partner’s time and denying them the things that make them happy is not romantic, it’s emotionally abusive. Your significant other is not your pet, nor are they indebted to you 24/7. If you can’t handle your partner spending time on their hobbies, career, or friends, you need to reevaluate your jealousy and trust issues instead of stomping on their souls.
In fact, denying your partner the things that bring them joy leads to resentment and, in some cases, a relationship breakdown. The saying, “If you love someone, let them go. If they come back, it was meant to be,” holds a lot of truth. If you truly love and trust your partner, you should be able to let them pursue their passions without holding them back.
Watching my wife flourish and grow through her hobbies brings me joy, and I will never stand in the way of that happiness. So, let’s embrace the idea that our partners’ hobbies and interests are just as important as our own and that a healthy relationship is one where both individuals can thrive together and separately.
Author’s Note: This is a re-work of an older essay. I’m trying a little writing experiment with some non-fiction work.
It’s March, and we’re already getting Spring storms here in Switzerland. We recently had a storm which scared the crap out of me and the Wife one night. I have a large window in my bedroom that has an awning that I usually have closed because I like it dark in my room. During the summer, I open it up to accommodate my portable air conditioner. There’s a little hook that keeps it closed during storms, and apparently I didn’t hook it up correctly when I closed it up for the winter. The loose awning opened with a loud bang that woke me and The Wife up at 3 am. Eventually the adrenaline wore off and I was able to get back to sleep, but the storm was quite noisy and windy.
That’s how we know, here, that it’s closer to Spring and that Winter will soon be over. Soon, we’ll be getting more storms like that one, but with thunder and lightning! (It’s what we get for living near the Alps.)
The end of February and March have been kind of like that storm. While the book launch was really awesome, there’s been a lot of other stuff that hasn’t been awesome, that knocked us in the head. We’re getting through it, and we’re ok overall, but it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions.
What was really hard for me, personally, was finding out one of my best friends from seminary, Rev. Lee Whittaker, passed away suddenly a couple of weeks ago. Grieving is hard. I know this. I’ve told my wife and friends this on many occasions, but it’s hard to remember when you’re grieving someone who was close to you. I wished we’d had more contact in the last few years, but like with a lot of folks, when we moved to Switzerland, we fell out of regular contact. (I don’t blame anyone for this, really, since life is life and time zones and all that.)
But the one gift I have for myself and for others who loved Lee is this small YouTube series we did in 2015 called “Coffee With God.” While it was hard for both of us to continue with the series due to our schedules and other things, I think what we did together with this series was really good. We both learned a lot about filming, editing, and online ministry.
When I heard the news about Lee, I immediately began looking through the videos, and of course, there was this episode about grief:
Seminary was a complicated time for me. I have no regrets at all, but it was also a lot: a lot of emotional growth, spiritual growth, and figuring out a lot about who I was spiritually and what I wanted to do religiously and for my ministry. The first couple of years after seminary were even more complicated and not really something I’ll go into here, but I’ve found my own way now with my ministry, and I know Lee found his. I’m glad I got to be his friend in this life, and hopefully we’ll meet again in the next.
One thing that helps in processing my grief is my writing. Always has, to be honest. I have two more novels in the editing pipeline, and I’m now working on a 7th. It’s been hard to find my footing for the current novel, because of the grief, but I think I might have found my footing today during my Twitch stream. I’m really grateful for my Wife and my Twitch community.
It’s coming up on the Spring Equinox. Time to bring in the new and let go of the things that hold us back. Never forgetting the past, but moving forward. At least for my own life.
I think I’ll keep reminding myself of that, and I hope that your Spring is time of moving forward, too.
We’re Making Bookplates Because Amazon Doesn’t Work in Switzerland. (aka The Amazon Paper Book Saga)
Most folks that talk to me on the regular have heard me rant about how Amazon doesn’t work in Switzerland. I don’t fully understand why, but from what I do understand it stems from the way Switzerland deals with VAT (shipping taxes) and other legislation that passed here that Amazon didn’t like. So Amazon noped out of shipping pretty much anything at all to Switzerland.
For reals. If you look up anything on the Amazon.de site with a Swiss address, 99% of the time it will say “This item does not ship to Switzerland.” Or, it might look like it does, then you go to check out, and find out they won’t when you try to pay for it. *sigh*
This leads me to why I won’t be doing any more signed paper copies for the foreseeable future.
I’ll preface this explanation by saying I absolutely DO NOT regret getting the paper copies to give away during my release party on Twitch. I’d been planning to do that for months. (Those copies are now on their way to the winners!)
Getting those copies was a pain in the ass, though.
The biggest problem is that Amazon does not allow me to buy author/proof copies here. Author/proof copies are usually printed for the author at cost and you can normally get them before you make the book go live. But because I live in Switzerland, if I want to buy author copies, I have to buy them through the Amazon.com site, ship them to my parents, then have my parents ship them here. For the giveaways, because we ran out of time, we ended having to publish the paper version, buy them at full cost from Amazon.de, send them to a 3rd party shipper in Germany who then sent the books to us (for a fee, of course).
If you’re thinking that’s a lot of money, you’re right. Shipping them out again is just as expensive, if not more. I managed to keep the cost of shipping down for the prize books because I went through the Swiss Post. However, there’s no tracking, and I had to bring all the books to the Post Office to drop off because Swiss Post doesn’t do home pickup for international packages. (You also can’t just put letters in your mailbox for the Postal Carrier to pick up, either, which is irritating. Thankfully the Post box for letters isn’t too far from my house and I don’t mind the walk.)
DHL, FedEx or other carriers aren’t an option, because they want a little over 200 CHF (about the same in dollars) to ship just 1 book. And that was the cheapest shipping option. *sighs again*
I know there’s a number of you who would like signed paper copies, and I really wish I could, but it’s just not going to be a feasible thing. (Although, if you ever see me in person and happen to have your book or books with you, I will be more than happy to sign them!)
BUT! My lovely friend Denise suggested that we do bookplates, and the Wife and I thought that was an excellent idea (Thank you, Denise!). The Wife is also getting into lino/block printing, and offered to make handmade bookplates for the launch.
Here’s how it will work:
- If you bought, or will buy, a paper copy of my book between February 1 through February 28, email me through the Email page and let me know how many bookplates you want and if you want something special written on them.
- Limit is 4 per person.
- Include your snail mail address in the email.
- The Wife will create the bookplates in March and I will sign them all.
- The bookplates will be mailed out around the end of March or beginning of April.
These will only be available for this launch, so they are limited edition and will be numbered. We’ll have pictures of the design around mid-March.
We hope you’ll like them, and trust me, from the design that The Wife showed me today, they are going to be really cool!
Thank you everyone for your most awesome support and understanding! You are the best! 🙂
The books released on February 1, and the response has been so awesome! The February 5 release party was so much fun. If you missed it, or want to watch it again, you can go to my YouTube channel and watch it.
That’s not all that’s launched in the last couple of weeks! I also launched my podcast “Tales from Flat Space” which you can check out through the book page, or look for it on your favorite podcatcher (Apple and Google are taking a while, but it is available on Spotify, Stitcher, Pocketcasts, and Amazon Music). The first three episodes cover The Four Keys and 5 short stories that I read live on Twitch.
The subsequent episodes will be my reading of Survey. I read the episodes live during my Sunday Twitch stream at 11 pm Central European Time (5 pm Eastern/ 2 pm Pacific US time) and they will be posted via podcast about 1-2 weeks later.
I also finished the first draft of the next two novels! One is a sequel novel to the first 4 books, and the second is set between Survey and Unity. I’ve just started the editing process for these two, and, depending on how things go, at least one of them should be out by the end of the year.
I hope that people are enjoying the books and I’m looking forward to hearing what you think! (Also, if you’re so inclined, feel free to leave a review on Amazon!)
Thank you all so much for the support! It means a lot to me!