"I'm dreaming, right?
Jake and Elwood?" asked Venus, squinting back and forth between the two
shadowy figures standing before her. "Wait a minute, I know. You guys are
a couple of yokels out for a laugh at the expense of some city chick, right?"
The two figures looked at each other, then back at Venus.
"A fraternity stunt, maybe?" Venus hoped. She tried to shake off the shock, and said incredulously, "The 'Men in Black?."
"My name is Vincent." The one on the right spoke. "This is my colleague Dr. Kang. Please do not be alarmed."
"I'm trying but it ain't easy." Venus said uneasily. "You guys better level with me. You gonna kidnap me or what?"
By now her eyes had adjusted to the moonlight enough for Venus to make out the two figures at last. These were not a couple of frat brothers dressed for a prank. The two subjects before her were both about 5 feet six inches tall and they had heads about the size of cantaloupes but shaped like light bulbs. Their skin had a texture much like that of a burn victim's and was a shiny fleshy gray color in the blue moonlight. They looked like the blues brothers, dressed in dark suits, white shirts and skinny ties, wearing black fedoras and sunglasses. The alien named Dr. Kang spoke next in a thin, reedy voice, clearing his throat. "Kidnap? No, uh, . . . but if you try to run away we will have to sedate you - for your own protection, of course. We wouldn't want you to hurt yourself while you were in such an hysterical state. I hope that is not necessary. I guess you might call it an alien abduction when the news media gets a hold of you though. An encounter with an alien life form seems to have a debilitating effect on you humans. It seems to instill fear and dementia. We'd much rather talk to a rational human being. You can imagine how hard it is to find one."
Vincent summarized by saying, "We'd just like to ask you some questions."
Venus still squinting back and forth at the alien blues brothers looking for a sign of their real intentions, wondering if a kick in the groin would do the same to these guys as it does to earth guys, if it became necessary. "So," Venus asked sarcastically, "What? You want to interview me? You gonna take me to your space ship or what?"
"I don't think that will be necessary." Answered Vincent. "We are merely scientists, here to study your planet and it's creatures. Thanks to the proliferation of radio and television broadcasting we have been able to learn all the languages of the civilized parts of this planet without having to learn it directly from the inhabitants. The broadcasting from your planet has been quite enlightening as a way to view your species through it's own eyes, so to speak. It is very exciting to me to be able to communicate with a life form from another world as opposed to simply observing them. However, the more primitive inhabitants of your planet perceive us to be gods."
"Well, I must say," admitted Venus, " I never thought it would be like this. You do seem to have the our language down pretty good, though you do look like you guys watched a lot of our old movies. I hope you don't think that we're really like our movies."
"No," Vincent spoke softly "we realize that is merely a form of entertainment; fantasies, that sort of thing." Then in a concerned voice he asked Venus, "Are we frightening you? We wouldn't want you to assume that we are anything like your movies either."
Venus thought about it for a second before she answered. "No, I guess not. Maybe I should be but you guys don't seem to be threatening." Then she added, sitting upright and looking straight at the pair of strangers, "Tell ya what. You guys be honest with me and I'll be honest with you. I'll answer your questions if you answer mine. What'ya say?"
"Fair enough." Answered Vincent.
"Agreed." Added Dr. Kang.
"Mind if I build a fire?" inquired Venus.
"Allow me." Said Dr. Kang picking up a few small logs and placing them in the fire ring. He pointed a small device about half the size of a cigarette lighter toward the logs. There was no sound, no beam of light but in less than ten seconds the logs began to sizzle and crackle then they burst into flames.
"Wow, is that some kind of phaser weapon or something?" asked Venus trying to get a look at the thing before Dr. Kang put it back into his pocket.
"Oh, this little toy?" answered Dr. Kang. "Actually it's sort of like your microwave oven only smaller. It's not one of ours though. I stole it from your military.
"We have stuff like that?!"
"Oh yes, your military has all sorts of things they shouldn't be playing around with." Chuckled Vincent. "That is one of the safer things they are toying with."
Venus fleered, shaking her head, and motioned for her guests to have a seat around the campfire.
The visitors began their questioning. It was mostly boring stuff. Much like any anthropologist would ask if he or she were in the wilds of the Amazon studying some long-lost tribe or some such thing. Having some of the same problems of communication at times. There were questions about Venus' family, and what her life was like as she grew up, what kind of education she had. Questions about what her beliefs are, questions about morality, law, religion. Then there were inquiries about her relationships with other people. There was no note-taking or any evidence of a recording device. There were only questions, one after another as if her interrogators had memorized some long and detailed questionnaire.
Occasionally Venus would ask some of the same questions back to her uninvited guests. Through this process she learned that Dr. Kang and Vincent weren't using their real names because humans are not capable of pronouncing them. They did not come here in a flying saucer (that was another race from another part of this galaxy). Kang and Vincent were from much farther away and had arrived here through a warp in space. They stepped through a hole in space, and walked to Earth in one step. Their solar system has two suns, and their planet has seven moons. They even showed her some moving pictures on a little recorder with a screen about three by five inches, a kind of VCR, showing her some home movies of Vincent's family and home. Venus was fascinated. She wanted to know why they weren't writing any of her answers down. It was because her visitors could remember everything, they didn't need to record things. When Venus asked if they had any other special powers that Earth people don't. Dr. Kang answered that humans remember everything also. They just don't know how to get access to the information when they need it. It's not a special power, and no, aside from being extremely intelligent compared to humans, He and Vincent didn't have any special powers. Venus wanted to know, if they didn't come in a spaceship, where did they live? Vincent explained that they "reside" in another time on their own planet when it occupied this place in space. They step through their time portal to this time period, when Earth occupies this place in space, in order to study humans. Vincent admitted he understood this time travel stuff about as well as your average civilized human understands television transmission.
"You know, you're not going to get very far with one nights questioning." Venus thought out loud. "How much could you possibly get from only a few hours interrogation?"
Dr. Kang reminded her that they could manipulate time. "Tell us about the ritual you performed at sunset today."
Venus paused for a moment to think. Then she remembered the scene up on top of the cliff across the creek from the campsite. "Oh, that." She blushed, remembering her uninhibited display, partly naked, dancing and hollering in the setting sun. "Well that wasn't really what you'd call a ritual. I mean, I made it up on the spot. It was ad-libbed." She groped for an explanation. "It wasn't a religious thing. It just felt good, ya know?", she said as she unconsciously added another log to the fire. "It's not something I do regularly. I just felt like letting go of my inhibitions and doing whatever came naturally and, well . . . that's what happened. It was something primal. I didn't think about what it meant or try to analyze it in any way. In fact, I forgot about it until you asked me." Then it occurred to Venus, "Wait a minute. You guys saw that? Where were you?"
"We came across your camp a few hours ago," explained Vincent, "So we went back in time to the point of your arrival at this location in order to observe you. We were in that field across the road watching you. When you went to sleep we came back to this point in time. We chose this time of day because there is less chance of unexpected encounters with other humans and an easier escape if we do."
"Have you guys ever thought of going public, you know, a take-me-to-your-leader kind of thing?"
"Yes, of course we've entertained the idea," Dr. Kang answered, "but we decided not to for the same reason it wouldn't be a good idea for you to walk up and introduce yourself to Neanderthal Man. Besides altering the course of their evolution, there is the distinct possibility of your death at the hands of a frightened and ignorant creature."
Venus yawned. She had no idea how long her visitors had been with her. She was tired but she wasn't ready to stop visiting with her guests either. She reached for another log.
"Let me put another log on the fire. You guys drink coffee?" She asked.
Vincent stopped her from adding the log to the fire. "No, please, we must be going. We are keeping you from getting the rest you require."
"You're not leaving now are you?" Venus pleaded. "Well, uh, . . . will I see you again? I mean, you guys can drop in any time. Well . . . I'll be on the road, but you could probably find me, right? C'mon, you need more than one nights worth of interviews don't you?"
Vincent seemed to smile, that is, if that facial contortion means the same thing on their planet. "Don't worry, Miss Venus, you have provided us with a very enlightening evening. You seem to have behaved quite naturally."
"So, do I pass the audition?" She added to lighten the disappointment at their leaving.
"I beg your pardon?" asked Vincent.
"Never mind." Said Venus walking Vincent and Dr. Kang to their car. "I really hope to run into you guys again."
"Anything is possible." Said Dr. Kang as he closed the car door. Without a sound, and with the headlights turned off, the car backed out onto the road and disappeared around a bend down the road.
Venus watched until they were out of sight, then she went back to the campfire and sat down. She stared into the dying embers glowing in the fire ring before her. She laughed out loud and said "How am I supposed to go to sleep now?" Venus got up and got her tape recorder and notebook out of her car and put them to work recording this evening's event while it was still fresh in her mind. The whole time she kept saying to herself, "This is ridiculous, nobody will take it seriously. I've got to hide these entries. Keep them separate from my other writings. People will think I'm some kind of kook, that I made all this up. My camera! I forgot all about it. I could've taken pictures! Ooo, I'm an idiot!" She got her account of the story all down anyway and clearly marked the tape. She made no effort to analyze the event, only to record it accurately. She chastised herself for letting them go so easily. I mean really, walking them back to their car like they drop by all the time? Like they're just regular folks? Then she thought, maybe they are just regular folks.
The sun began to light the Eastern sky with a gold and blue glow by the time she finished her task. Venus rose and stretched the stiffness out of her limbs. She laughed to herself and thought that nothing would surprise her anymore. Not after meeting the aliens. Like Dr. Kang said, "Anything is possible". She stashed away her story in the car and then made her way to her hammock. She was truly tired now. The early morning birds were beginning their choruses but before the Sun peeked over the horizon, Venus was fast asleep.
On a boulder as big as a
house, next to the creek, Mars squatted naked facing East to catch the first
warming rays of the Sun. The burning gold orb had minutes ago broken over the
horizon and was now beginning to heat the landscape in places, causing the fog
to rise up out of the valleys in feathered wisps into the sky. As the air warmed,
Mar's sense of smell improved. The scent of some unknown wild flowers wafted
out of the cool shade of the forest canopy. The sound of the gently tumbling
stream below the boulder added it's hypnotically soothing effect to the heating
rays of the Sun.
What a thing, the Sun, Mars thought, shaking his head. It's ninety-three million miles way and it can still burn human flesh to a crisp. It's a hydrogen bomb so big it'll take millions of years for the explosion to be over but it'll never explode because it's held together by it's own gravity. There he was basking in the rays of it's photon storm watching it make things grow. Mars had watched the morning glories open up and face the sun as it spread it's light across the sky. When the sun rose the flowers were fully opened and waiting for it. He watched animals in the distance eating the plants, knowing later he might be eating some of those plants and animals. Mars laughed at himself. Now he was beginning to think like Karl and John. It wasn't so bad, really.
Mars never thought being homeless would be like this. Could be worse, Mars thought as he began to dress himself. He could've been homeless in a city somewhere competing for limited resources with many others more experienced than he. Out here with Karl and John it was quite another matter. He had nothing to his name but he was getting the education of a lifetime. He was becoming rich with knowledge. There was always enough to eat. He had a soft, warm place to sleep. He had food, shelter and companionship. What more could you ask for? It wasn't cushy but it was comfortable in a primitive way. John taught Mars that this planet is our home, so as long as we were here, how could we be homeless? We have the right to live on this planet. To eat it's plants and animals and drink it's water. Use it. Don't abuse it. Be good to the earth and it will be good to you. Unfortunately, that's not the way that thing that calls itself civilization sees things. You're not allowed to just go off and live off the land. If you don't have ID and some money in your pocket, you're a vagrant. If you hunt or fish without a license, you're a poacher. If you set up house somewhere on land nobody is using, you're a squatter. You're some kind of deviant if you don't have an address and a drivers license.
The sheriff came by last night and told the threesome they'd have to be moving on. At least he was nice about it. He suspiciously eyed Karl's equations scrawled all over the bridge abutment but didn't say anything. He informed the threesome, with a big smile on his face, that they will be moving on. He gave them 24 hours.
This morning John went into town to make a withdrawal from the bank and Karl went with him to help do some last minute shopping. Mars decided to stay at camp because he didn't look very presentable. His clothes were pretty much shot. His job was to make the place look like nobody had ever been there. Aside from Karl's scrawlings on the bridge abutment, it was an easy thing to do. Mars thought about Karl's equations covering the cement walls under the bridge. Mars thought the sheriff would most likely mistake these equations for gang related graffiti and make a name for himself by keeping crime down in spite of the nonexistent gangs. Mars left the camp fire for last, dousing it with water and burying the charcoal then scattering the rocks that were the fire ring. When everything was packed up it didn't amount to very much to carry. Two backpacks and two duffel bags. Mars had no luggage, just the clothes that were falling off his back.
Karl and John were back by noon. They brought Mars two sets of shirts, pants, socks, underwear and a pair of shoes that they picked up at a thrift store. Mars quickly shed his old clothes and donned the new ones, thanking his new friends deeply. While he dressed Karl explained that a train would be passing on the tracks on the hill a hundred yards or so above the roadway. It's a sharp turn around that hill and the train will be slowed to a crawl. It's a blind curve, so they'd be out of view from the engine or the caboose. This is were they planned on boarding the train.
"We're going into the wilds." Proclaimed John as he and Karl distributed the goods they brought from town among the backpacks and small duffel bags. "We've got to get a little further from civilization for a while. We're going to take the train into the interior of these mountains and set up another camp. Nobody patrols out there. Hopefully we won't be on that train long enough to be discovered by the railroad goons. You coming with us, Mars?"
It didn't take Mars long to weigh his options. There weren't many. He decided to go with them because he had no idea what he'd do otherwise.
Getting on the train wasn't too much trouble. They were waiting for it when it came around the bend. First they threw their packs and bags onto an open boxcar as they ran along side it then they each in turn grabbed the ladder and pulled themselves aboard. They all managed to get themselves aboard without being seen.
When they got settled in for the ride, Mars asked John. "You have any idea where we're heading?"
"There's a place a couple of hours into the mountains, where the train goes around a series of tight turns." He answered, having to speak above the noise of the train. "It'll be easy to get off there and it's a short walk to a place Karl and I have camped before. It's a beautiful place. Prime virgin forest, pure running trout streams. A sylvan paradise."
They sat on the floor of the boxcar watching the scenery through the opposite door. It was a glorious day for a ride in the mountains. No houses, no roads, no power lines. Just a set of railroad tracks clinging to the sides of the steep valleys, boring through the mountainside in places. The air was incredibly clear. It seemed like you could make out every leaf and needle on every tree on the mountains. White puffy clouds floated in a pure blue sky. The train tracks followed the river, snaking toward it's source, into the mountains. The further they went the more rugged the terrain and the wilder the river became.
Once the threesome had settled in, the steady clacking of the steel wheels on rails lulled them into a semi-trance-like state, each one finding himself a daydream. Karl marveled at the feat of engineering that is a railroad and it's tracks. With his eyes closed, John was rocking his head to the beat of the clacking wheels on the rails, composing music in his head. Mars wondered what kinds of cargoes this boxcar had carried and the stories it might tell of all the places it's been in it's years of service. They rode in silence for nearly two hours.
As the train slowed to about five m.p.h., John sensed that they were getting close to their jump-off point and warned the others. In a few minutes the signal was given and they tossed out their baggage and one by one leapt from the train, tumbling in the grass beside the tracks. They collected up their packs and headed up a trail that led to a ridge top high above them.
"Just over that ridge and we'll be in the most beautiful valley you've ever seen." John smiled as he shifted his back pack. "There's a wide, slow spot in the river next to a magnificent grove of old growth trees. That's where we usually camp. Nobody will bother us out here."
Up the trail they went, through shoulder high grass crackling with the sounds of insects, then through the thick brush into the forest. The quiet, soft-floored, high canopy forest where a trail is not needed; you can see which direction you want to go and there is nothing besides the trees to impede your progress. They headed straight up the moderately sloped hill until they reached the ridge-top. The three of them stood there at the top gaping at the scene before them. John and Karl began emitting choking sounds. What they saw was a scene of utter devastation. Almost as far as they could see were naked, mountains of mud covered with a stubble of stumps, criss-crossed with bulldozer tracks and logging roads. The river was the same color as the muddy mountains. Karl dropped to his knees in shock.
"It's like coming home and finding out your house has burned down." Mumbled John unable to take his eyes off the sight before him. "Karl, your camera. We must have photographs of this abomination." The sheer vastness of the devastation was overwhelming.
"I don't understand," Karl cried, "This area was set aside to remain untouched! How could this happen!?
Mars stood there shaking his head. "It's been touched all right."
Way Out West ©1993 Martin Scherer. Venus & Mars © 1995 Martin Scherer. E-mail: Scherer@tesserak.net