Authors: Rebecca Ore
Tags: #Science fiction, #aliens-science fiction, #astrobiology-fiction, #space opera
Published by Aqueduct Press
PO Box 95787
Seattle, WA 98145-2787
Digital Copyright © 2012 by Rebecca Ore
All rights reserved.
First publication: Tor, January 1988
Digital ISBN: 978-1-61976-000-4
Cover illustration “Glacial Pool” courtesy Cheryl A. Richey
© Cheryl A. Richey
Cap down to his black brows, Warren leaned on his truck, hearing out two men slouched in a junker car—the kind of car those men leave in a ditch after they’ve done their business. As I came up, Warren said to them, “Well, if you put it
way, I’d come up with them pills.”
The driver smiled, then asked me, “Tom, you help your brother Warren in the business?”
“Hush, Tom,” Warren said. He stared at the truck hood ornament, finally said, “My brother’s not in this.”
“But he’d be so good as a courier, not quite blond, not quite dark-haired. Can’t be much money in four or five hundred hens.”
“He’s not part of the deal,” Warren said, getting the overnight bag out from behind the truck seat.
Drug investors—I tried not to look at them. Did they know he’d been crazy once, me in foster care, the farm almost lost? Yeah, they knew, gave them good leverage.
“And your brother’s underage.”
“No, I’m sixteen,” I said, my face turned down, away from them. I didn’t like Warren’s drug thing.
Warren asked the men, “And where you from? What’s your address?”
“Atlanta’s enough. Be in touch with you.” So more and more into drugs for Warren.
While Warren’s new Methedrine distributors made pickups, I drove off miles through the summer heat, trying to forget that I might come home to find Warren arrested or dead, the truck and Ford Fairlane confiscated. Three weeks after the Atlanta guys visited, I drove up a dirt road, then walked by White’s Branch into the woods, trying not to think of jails, school, Warren—so wild and crazy.
The ground screeched like rocks being dragged across rocks. I saw smoke and ran up to a wreck, burning, not a car, but no wings—an odd-looking machine.
A hatch opened. I saw flames behind a man-shape, face twisted bad—wrinkled face writhing and crying. I flashed that he looked weird, but I rushed to get him out and laid him down.
When we heard screams, he sat up and shoved me toward the wreck.
The ship sizzled, the screams stopped.
He pushed me again with long bony hands, but now I was really looking at him: dark eyes rolling under bone swellings like bone goggles all around them. He was naked except for pants, them burnt.
Slowly, he raised a hand to his head hair and felt the ash in it. Face hair charred, too, so you could see the skin through it, like on a dog’s belly. And face all wrinkled from eyes to pointed chin.
I touched him—not cool like a frog, but bird-hot. Sparse burnt hair covered his body. Then I
noticed the eyelashes. Regular eyelashes. Who’d have thought a creature that weird would have regular eyelashes?
When I tried to take a pulse, the creature winced and reached for my hand. He muttered with a tongue that sure looked un-Earthly, dark red, flat-pointed like a bird’s, but broader behind the point, real flexible.
No nipples, no navel. Gooky blood oozed out of wire nicks. He was alien, trying to get up.
I held him down. “Easy, whoa, easy,” I said, feeling his legs and arms for breaks. The joints and tendons were a bit different, but nothing felt
really out of place.
“You’re a problem,” I said to him, considering Warren’s business. “Whole troops of investigators gonna hit this place.”
Maybe someone at Tech should help him with his burns,
I thought. He had burnt places all over his back like he’d been struck with red-hot coins and wire.
. Or was that supposed to be
I didn’t exactly want to ask the high school teachers. The first-discovered alien on Earth ever. I’d call him Alpha. The ship hadn’t seemed to come out of the sky, though, just twisted out of space, wrecking.
The wreck didn’t look like much, other than obviously not a car wreck. The alien looked over at it, then rolled his head to the side and cried. The tears were thick, oily. I helped him up, with my arm around him, and felt his heart thumping in that long torso, webs in the armpits like bat’s wings against my hand. We wobbled to the car. I plunked him down in the back seat.
Sitting there, short legged, the long crooked arms weaving around, Alpha Alien looked drunk. I took off what was left of one shoe. If he’d had a shirt, it’d been totally burned away.
I wondered if we’d see anyone and thought about getting the back seat down so the
could crawl through Warren’s hole into the trunk. But Alpha slowly lay down. Only a transit truck could see down into the back seat and one wasn’t likely on these little roads, so I drove to the house, resetting Warren’s road alarms.
Warren was out, hiding or spending the drug money. In the kitchen, the alien stopped, sniffed. I feared Alpha smelled the chemicals in Warren’s tunnels, but the alien got the saltshaker and sprinkled some on his hand, then licked it. He sniffed again and stared at the faucet. I turned on the water and stepped back. My alien guy then saw a glass sitting in the drain.
After drinking, his tongue flopping sloppily inside the glass, the alien put the glass down. Slowly, he sank to the floor. When he covered his face with his hands, I saw the webs running from near the elbow to the chest, wrinkled like crepe paper, trembling. This was so spooky, a web-armed, wrinkle-faced creature shuddering on our kitchen linoleum floor.
what can we do?
I put the alien to bed where our parents had slept, and eased off the pants. No asshole and an odd thick cock, I noticed as he helped kick the pants free. I covered him and watched until he was asleep, or passed out.
I’ll put the crash stuff in the barn until Warren figures out what to do,
As I hauled the wreck onto the tractor wagon, soft things flopped inside it. The wagon sides groaned as the thing slid between them. I scared myself with questions: What kinds of aliens were hunting the ship? Was the ship, whatever, shot down?
The ship, looking now like a de-winged small plane, was so far crashed I knew the alien couldn’t escape in it. If he didn’t get alien help, he’d be stuck here.
Scare questions… What did the alien eat? Was he going to whip out that tongue…?
Fears cranked up, with me spooking myself. What were those armpit webs? Why the big wrinkle on its belly and no nipples, unless they’d been burned off? That was worse scary than the awful, wrinkled face, the goat slit nostrils, and pointed chin.
No, the alien has absolutely no asshole.
The tractor strained to get the wagon moving, then I drove it off the roads and up through the woods, keyed out the alarms before coming onto our land, and put the wagon in the barn, unhitched the tractor, and closed and padlocked the doors.
I went back to the alien’s room. “Tom?” Warren’s voice sounded like he was popped in the head a bit. He stood by the alien’s bed. The alien yawned, exposing needle teeth, then shuddered.
Warren pulled his hands from his eyes to his nose. Alpha shifted stiffly, as though he was sore from the crash.
“This ain’t the time to bring in crazy circus animals, Tom.” Warren leaned up against the wall. “Or whatever it is. Anybody know it’s here?”
“I think he’s an alien, Warren,” I said timidly. “He crashed in the woods.”
“Bet half the Air Force and all the county saw it coming down. Just as good as killed us bringing it here.”
“Nobody saw it.”
Warren groaned. The creature looked seriously at Warren, but didn’t say even a garble with his own tongue.
“Can’t you see he was hurt?” I said.
“Yeah. If it dies on us, you want to explain to the guys who sent it?”
“Was I supposed to let him burn up? Touch him, Warren, he won’t hurt you. Call him Alpha, that’s what I call him.”
“Alph.” Warren reached for the creature, kind of rough, and the alien flinched. “Afraid of me, are you?” Warren said, with the voice he used on skittish stock. “Not if you plan to stay in
The creature pulled his hand back so that just the fingertips touched.
“Feels hot,” Warren said, grabbing the creature’s wrist, pulling a bit to test Alph’s strength. “Like a chicken. Does it have a fever?”
“Tom, it’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever brought home. Worse than that broke-leg pony I shot and you made a skeleton of.”
“And the wreck’s in the barn.”
Warren sighed. He took off his cap and rubbed his head. “Damn,” Warren finally said, meaning the creature could stay despite it being a very bad idea.
“Let’s see whose jeans he can wear,” I said, “’cause what he had on was all tore up.”
The wreck in the barn began to stink, so Warren told me to clean out whatever rotted in there. I soaked rags in vinegar and went in.
I shoved a rear compartment hatch open. Two charred messes—once live creatures—lay sprawled under the flashlight. One’s fingers, bones, and dried sinews had tore off onto the door handle. It’d died pulling the hatch down, keeping the worst of the fire back from the compartment where I’d found the live one.
I pulled the fingers away from the handle and dragged the bodies out, both bigger than the live alien, but so light. Half the flesh had burned to char.
Warren laid the most complete corpse on an outside table where we’d butchered hogs. He started dissecting the corpse, putting alien meat
and organs into Mason jars full of formaldehyde.
“Look, they’ve got sharp teeth,” he said, holding a jaw open with his index finger, flesh on one side burned away to the jawbone. With his other hand, he felt down in the gaping cavity. “And the tongue has a ring of muscle back from the tip.” He cut into the tongue with a meat dressing knife. “I’ll use carrion beetles to clean off the skeleton. And if the one inside dies…”
“Bury the bodies, Warren,” I said. “It’s the only decent thing to do.”
“I wanna see what alien skeletons look like,” Warren said. “Bet you’re curious, too.”
We carried one body to an old log corncrib so flies and beetles could clean the bones. He buried the other one in a copper mine near us.
Back in the house, the creature twisted the bed covers into lumps around his arms. When I went in, he moaned. Swollen veins in the armpit webs throbbed slightly. I washed his cuts with soapy water and sat by him awhile.
When I got up to leave, he dabbed his fingers at me, pinching the air by my hand, so I stayed. As I pulled up a chair by the bed, Alpha shivered. Even though it was summer, I got out a blanket and wrapped it around the alien. He focused his eyes on me, moved his lips a bit, then breathed out a wavery tone.
I clicked my tongue, and he clicked back. Remembering the old jungle movies, I pointed to myself and said, “Tom.”
He pointed to me and said a sound with only the ghost of
in it, the tones, maybe, like he had the tune, but not the words. Then he touched his shoulder and went, “Hwu-ing.”
I tried to imitate what he said. The alien huffed, touched his shoulder again, and made another different call, bell-toned. I tried to imitate again, but just made him agitated.
Like Vietnamese, I thought, having heard from Warren that Asians built their languages from tones.
I shrugged my shoulders; Alpha shrugged back as if he was testing shrugs for meanings. Then he wadded the blanket up and put his arms around it. Rubbing his face against the bedclothes first, he closed his eyes, then the breathing shifted, slowed down.
I sat on the chair, creaking the cane seat from time to time, until Warren came upstairs smelling of chemicals and solvents, his sweaty hair tumbled down his forehead. He felt the creature’s face, around the eyes. Still the alien slept, just bird-singing once when Warren touched a wire nick.
Finally Warren asked, “Did you see anything in the paper about the ship? About a fireball yesterday?”
“No, like I said, Warren, it didn’t come
from anywhere. Popped out of the rocks and air, all twisted and burning.”
“If anyone comes checking, that thing’s got to go.”
“Warren, he’s sick. And he can’t talk.”
“Can’t. What he tried to do with my name didn’t make any sense at all.”
“Maybe it’s like an alien space monkey.” Warren pulled back when the alien turned in his sleep and reached his arm around Warren’s leg. He put the alien’s arm back on the bed. “But we don’t send out space machines without tracking them.”
And the ship was still on the tractor wagon in the barn. “Warren, let’s get rid of the ship.”
He smiled, with a funny twist to his face. In a little flat voice, he said, “Tom, it’s not a hallucination, is it? Just too much, especially now.”
The Atlanta people.
He clinched his jaw and hands, then said, in a more regular voice, “I ought to disable anything odd in the ship, in case they’re tracking it. Then we’ll dump it down an old copper mine up-county.”
“It stinks inside, Warren,” I said. “And those metals might be super-hard, too,”