by Mickey Hunt
Kyle Johnson squinted at his wife silhouetted by the fiery sky and mumbled, “You’re looking staggeringly fecund this morning.”
Emily tossed her hairbrush onto a table, hugged her translucent nightgown closer, and stepped toward the window. “Husband, come see this! It’s from another world.”
Kyle swung into a sitting position on the edge of the hotel bed and massaged his face. “We didn’t come for
skyline,” he said in a yawn. His wife’s work delivering babies and his career
in architectural acoustics could hardly have driven them apart more, and with
the encouragement of Emily’s snotty senior partner, they had agreed to get away
and pursue what they both loved: bug watching. Their upcoming expedition in Singapore Borneo was the last hope of salvaging their marriage.
“Do you even know what fecund means?” Emily asked pensively.
“Don’t expect me to know fancy definitions unrelated to audible mechanical waves.” Kyle was grumpy because now he suspected fecund (a word he had heard from the smirking elevator operator describing an aphrodisiac fruit called a durian) related to childbirth. Emily wanted children and he absolutely did not.
Oddly, she ignored his crankiness. “You really should see this scene. I’m serious.” She grimaced, eased into a chair, and pressed her hand on her stomach.
Kyle stumbled to the window, his camera ready. Outside, everything manmade appeared as it had the evening before. The giant Singapore Flyer Ferris Wheel, stationary this early in the day. The Marina Bay Sands Hotel and its submarine-cruise-ship-shaped park perched atop three towers. The neon-lit skytowers of the Central Business District still reflected in
All spectacular by human design. Marina Bay
But the upper sky and the bay foreground upstaged all artifice as they blazed plum-purple. And at the horizon behind the angular high-rises lay strata of swirling scarlet. A fat orange and saffron sunball spun in place. Surpassing all, deep red rays drifted down, not from the sun in the east, and not pouring through a rift in towering clouds as such light often does, but descending through a clear atmosphere.
“Wow. It’s exciting,” he said and began snapping pictures.
“They mean danger.” Emily wobbled to her feet, swayed to the bathroom, and retched into the commode.
The gagging, dripping noise of it made Kyle feel queasy, but he moved to where he could see her rinsing her face and asked, “How can I help you, love?”
“Bug calls produce mechanical waves, don’t they?” Emily asked later in the morning as she and Kyle strolled along the waterfront of the Marina Promenade under a now ordinary sky. The searing equatorial heat hadn’t built up yet, and people were jogging, lounging in beach chairs, and posing for photographs. A boy with a fishing pole cast his line into the water. No babies anywhere to be seen, Emily thought. What a barren place.
She absent-mindedly thumbed the pages of their guidebook, wondering why she had thrown up. The odd rays from the sky disturbed her equilibrium, maybe. When she was 14, she fell from a sugar maple tree while watching ladybugs devour aphids, and vertigo and headaches had afflicted her ever since.
Shading his eyes, her husband halted under a rain tree and peered into its branches. “Boxer Mantis!” Fixing on a particular spot, Kyle raised his binoculars, and then his shoulders slumped. “Dead leaf.”
Emily loved Kyle, but his fun-obsessed nature made him disappointing as a lifelong companion. When they met on an
expedition, he was
a cute, charming boy, often dragging her by the hand in his enthusiasm. She
needed that exuberance then, but after they married he remained exactly the
same. And a perpetual child has no capacity for being a parent. He wouldn’t even
discuss children. All he ever said was, “You help babies into the world and I’m
delighted. But since I’ll never, ever change diapers, I’d be a terrible dad.” Amazon
Emily again pressed her belly. The momentary sickness… She showed every sign of pregnancy, but she should buy a test to be sure. She really hoped it was a false alarm, because if forced to choose between Kyle and a baby, she’d leave him. More immediately, pregnancy would jeopardize their jungle trek, with its dangerous rapids, torrential rains, mud, leeches, stiff climbs up mountain tracks, and rough sleeping in hammocks.
She glanced up from the guidebook and said wistfully, “We should see the toy museum. We’ll find plenty of flora and fauna once we reach
. I’m especially—” Kayan Mentarang
“Why must you control every situation?”
Oh, no, not again. Emily’s mind clouded with resentful defensiveness, and she almost tossed back, It’s not every damn situation, but she checked herself and said instead, “I’m trying to be helpful… we promised we weren’t having these conversations. And I won’t take calls from patients, and you won’t look at concert halls.”
His twisted his mouth into a sour expression and looked askance. “Yeah, yeah. I’m sorry.”
She closed the guidebook and took his arm. “Whatever you want for our last day in
is fine.” She leaned forward, intending to give him a quick peck, but now he
was gawking over her shoulder, his pupils dilated. Leering at an Asian babe,
Emily thought, now angry and hurt enough to walk away and fly back to Singapore alone. North Carolina
She whirled around to see for herself.
It wasn’t a babe. It was a pack of babes: young, lithe, and muscular, stalking forward along the promenade, what skimpy clothing they were wearing obviously not for modesty. They might be a pageant of mixed martial arts fighters. Their skin was a jade green. Many of their bellies were swollen, and one or two bulged with full-term pregnancies. They each carried complicated luggage on straps slung over their shoulders.
“An exotic dance troupe,” Kyle said. “Epic.”
“I don’t think so…” Emily’s fury had dissipated with the bewildering mystery.
Holding tightly onto Kyle’s arm, she glanced around the promenade. Scattered columns of smoke and ash rose and dispersed in the humid tropical air. This made no sense. There were decidedly fewer people now than before, and she felt a creeping dread. Then, when she whiffed what might be the savory aroma of a steakhouse mingled with burning hair and trash, she felt full-on horror. She couldn’t explain how she knew what was happening. With their luggage—not luggage at all, but laser-like weapons—the green women were ruthlessly incinerating people.
“Let’s go,” Emily said, forcing back panic.
“Hurry. We need to leave.” They began a quick march in the general direction of their hotel.
“I don’t get it.”
A solitary elderly Malay man nearby was pushing a stroller. A green woman aimed her weapon, and a beam of violet light flared. He glowed magenta for an instant and exploded into a cloud of ash and smoke, leaving the stroller intact. Emily flinched, threw her arms up against the heat, then felt Kyle pulling her into a run. Despite the green woman’s large tummy, she was faster, moving in front and blocking their way. The woman didn’t look at them, but like a tiger without any human feeling, she gazed toward them. Emily hugged Kyle close, expecting these to be their last moments.
The green woman tilted her head in a bow, a red braid at the side of her dark hair dangling back and forth. Her countenance seemed to soften. Emily felt a tingle, a spasm deep in her body core.
“Ow!” Kyle shouted and grabbed his backside. Emily wheeled around. Another green woman swung her weapon away—she had shot him in the butt, but he hadn’t vaporized. Kyle lunged at her with bared fists, but she and the other green woman had already begun sprinting away.
All the green women moved away and the smoke cleared. As far as Emily knew, she and Kyle were the only people left alive. She stared into the stroller and said nothing.
“A baby?” Kyle asked, glancing around the promenade. “What’s inside?”
“Just cats. Two of them.”
An hour later back in their hotel room, Kyle’s leg muscles quivered with anxiety as he scanned the city with his binoculars. “I don’t see any movement. Wait. I hear…” He touched fingertips to the glass. “Helicopters.”
His wife was sitting in a chair beside him and watching the ruddy, bushy-tailed cats wrestling on the carpet. They probably were siblings, equally alert to every rustle and twitch, and full of leftover chicken satay.
Kyle had raised no objection when Emily began pushing the orphaned cats away from the promenade. They had meandered through vacant
streets until they found an abandoned taxi with the engine still running, the
gas tank nearly dry. The hotel was practically empty of guests when they
arrived—a few people wandered the lobbies in confusion. Marina Bay
Emily’s phone in her hand began chirping like a cricket. The cats’ ears turned, and the animals crouched and began creeping towards her. Emily stared blankly.
“Are you answering?” Kyle asked.
“It’s Matthew,” she said finally.
“Hello Emily, girl,” a familiar irritating male voice said. “Your most senior partner here.”
Emily remained silent, so the jerk continued. “Emily? I’d pledged not to call you even in an emergency, and I know how important this time is for your marriage.”
Kyle felt twinges of jealousy and embarrassment. He wished Emily would keep it all-business with him, Dr. Matthew Spenser. “Matt, you’re on speaker,” Kyle said brusquely.
“Oh, hello, pal. We’ve heard about the invasion of
, Emily. The aliens also
attacked at Singapore Macao, and in Eastern Europe,
primarily Austria and .
We’ve seen nothing here.” Bosnia
“We saw people killed,” Emily said. “It was horrible. The city’s a ghost town.” She covered her ear with her palm like when a migraine was coming on. “They didn’t mean to destroy anyone. They were incinerating litter.”
“What?” Kyle asked. “What are you saying, Emily?”
“I’m just feeling funny.”
Matthew continued without a bump. “I’ve heard from friends within the State Department. The invasion was defeated by the Singapore Defense Forces. They’ve got a substantial number of captured aliens, and some of them are injured. They need doctors, particularly they need OB-GYNs and right away.”
Kyle wagged his head back and forth in disbelief. The jungle and the rebuilding of their relationship awaited them.
“Where do we need to be?” Emily asked.
“The aliens are being held someplace called the Esplanade. It’s the only building big enough that can be made secure.”
Kyle gave her a sardonic grin and said, “The performing arts center. Designed by world-famous architect Fredrick Johnson, my distant relative.”
“We’ll be there in an hour,” she said and disconnected.
“I knew we couldn’t keep our promises.”
“Yeah, and you hate it, too,” she said with amiable facetiousness.
“And you hate playing doctor.”
“What we hate was driving us apart.”
“But now we get to be apart together.” Kyle reached around her waist and pulled her to him.
It’s great.” He planted a kiss on her neck. Singapore
Her body abruptly stiffened. “Kyle, this is serious.”
“Unless the aliens carry parasites,” he murmured into her ear, “we won’t see bugs.”
“I mean the invasion. It’s just beginning.”
“Why are you saying this crazy stuff?” he said and released her. His wife was beginning to worry him.
They stopped to fill the taxi at a deserted, wide-open fuel station, and without Emily prompting him, her husband ran to a next-door grocery and brought back cat food, kitty litter, and a cardboard box.
Emily was sitting in the back deftly braiding her hair, the cats snoozing on her lap. “I thought you hated pets.”
Kyle ripped open the kitty litter and poured it into the box. “I don’t like dependency, but we can’t let them poop everywhere and starve.”
The performing arts center featured twin metallic domes, each looking like the back of an aardvark, or an elongated silver golf ball, or the compound eye of a fly. The complex buzzed with scrambling urgent activity centered upon the main auditorium. With Kyle and the cat stroller behind her, Emily stopped at one of the propped-open doors. Huddled in pockets throughout the cavernous space, the green women displayed none of the fierceness Emily had seen along the promenade. They look like frightened children, she thought.
“It’s like a refugee center,” Kyle said.
“Excuse me, please.” A uniformed medical aid had walked up to them. “Dr. Johnson? An Amazon is beginning to push.”
Kyle’s face puckered into an expression of disgust and ironic amusement. “Amazon? While you’re working, Emily, the cats and I are touring the structure, starting in the balcony.”
“I thought you might help me.”
“No, really,” he said, flushing. “Pregnant green Amazons giving birth are not my type.”
“It’s fine, Kyle. I’m joking. I love you.”
“Love you babe.” He kissed her on the cheek, faked a shudder at the auditorium, leaned into the carriage before him and sauntered away.
When Emily arrived at an improvised, screened-off birthing alcove, she found an impending mother-to-be lying flat on a table and panting. A half dozen armed
guards stood inside the space, watching. Singapore
“What the—?” Emily said, bristling. “All of you, get out.” She put an arm around the mother’s shoulders and lifted her. “Where’s that medical aide? What do you want?” she said to a soldier, an ethnic Chinese girl who had remained.
“Excuse me, Doctor. I’m a paramedic.”
“Then put your gun away. Do we have a Doppler and a blood pressure cuff?”
“I don’t know.”
“Though I have no idea of their physiology… Fetch some pillows, quick. Find me a mattress.”
Between contractions now and with sweat beading on her face, the green woman rested limply. “Everything’s well,” Emily said to her. The woman seemed to have dozed off. The paramedic rushed in followed by soldiers loaded with seat cushions. They spread them on the floor.
Outside the screen, angry voices were shouting, “Get back. We will shoot!”
Emily helped the green woman down to the bed, and the paramedic propped her up just as the woman arched her back and moaned. Her belly rose up into a rock-hard mound.
“Baby is crowning. Massage the small of mom’s back.” Emily glanced around the space, spotted a weird bottle—probably belonging to the alien. The contents smelled like nothing but water, so Emily rinsed her hands and arms. “We’ve got a baby coming.”
More shouting intruded from beyond the screen, which began shaking and bulged until it collapsed with a startling crash. All the Amazons had gathered in silence to watch the birth. The mother issued an animal grunt, and the baby slipped into Emily’s outstretched arms. A boy, and healthy pink. The mother reached out, and Emily gave her the baby still attached by his umbilical cord. The mother held the baby to her breast, and the creature rooted for a moment and began feeding. Tucking a clean white towel around him, Emily nodded to the paramedic who cut the cord.
Three things happened at once. The mother’s head flopped to the side, the baby slid into her lap, and the Amazons, all of them, cried out in disharmonious, inarticulate wailing.
“Take the baby,” Emily said to the paramedic and checked the mother’s vitals.
Emily found her alive in body, but as if her spark of consciousness had been extinguished. The Amazons wandered back to their clusters, some of them with tears creeping down their faces.
The medical aide appeared at last, but only to report, “Dr. Johnson, we tested them. All the Amazons are pregnant. Every one. And we have another birth in progress. Please follow me.”
Kyle, still impelling the cat carriage ahead of him, had walked up in the middle of this message. “I was next door talking with a science official about the alien weapons, and I heard the noise. How are you?”
“Kyle, I have to go.”
Kyle sighed and said, “I suppose you do.”
“What does that mean? Wait…” She had an idea. She gently gathered the newborn from the paramedic. “Come here, Kyle, please.” Her husband frowned into the sweet baby’s face as Emily snuggled up to him. “Could I convince you to want one of these?”
As Kyle drew breath to answer, mystifying deep red sunbeams like those Emily had seen from the hotel window, beams similar to what emanated from the Amazonian weapons, drifted unimpeded down into the concert hall.
The space around Kyle morphed into another location altogether. His completed breath seared his lungs, setting him into an excruciating fit of gasping and agonized coughing. He lowered himself to a metallic floor and saw Emily sitting beside him, likewise coughing and holding the sputtering baby. A green someone tapped Kyle’s neck, leaving a sandpapery patch. The someone also stuck patches on Emily and the baby. His burning pain soon dissipated, allowing Kyle to take in the surroundings, a tube-like compartment like a subway car, but wider, four times larger, and full of green women hugging each other and uttering confused croaks and squeals. The floor seemed to be trembling.
Emily touched his arm. “Are you okay?”
He nodded weakly.
“The beams transported us to an alien ship. The Amazon prisoners, too.” The baby squirmed and whimpered in her arms. “This child should be fed, and we’ll need a diaper change.”
Smooth green arms hoisted Kyle and Emily to their feet, and they were guided from the compartment through glass doors into a huge, open pavilion like a domed train terminal, a transparent ceiling showing black sky and bright stars. An Amazon pulled Kyle along, and he glanced back to Emily who followed unaided. The cats hadn’t transported, apparently. Someone at the Esplanade hopefully would take charge of them.
Kyle, his escort, and Emily with the baby passed through teeming crowds of Amazon soldiers and female civilian greeters, and then through vast mall-like spaces and gardens lined with shops and smoky food stalls, all swarming with croaking, wooden-faced women and a few stupefied men and children. Then they moved through long corridors, passageways, and up a never-ending elevator that at last opened into a circular, starlit apartment. There, a bulging Amazon wearing a leather sari and a sparkling gem of extraordinary purple on a gold chain bowed to Emily and motioned for her to take a chair. The escort withdrew.
Kyle and the new Amazon also seated themselves. Her expression was blank and imbecilic. His wife made a wry face as if to convey everything she’d been feeling: confusion, fear, curiosity, nausea—maybe a stress headache. But when she gazed down at the baby and cooed, she looked comforted and happy. Brave girl.
“Well, they haven’t killed us, yet,” Kyle said. He turned to the Amazon. “Maybe you can explain what you want. Why have you invaded Earth? Can’t you talk? Do you understand any human language? How about Singlish? Confirm lah.”
The Amazon in the sari watched Kyle with mild interest until another Amazon entered.
“Kyle,” Emily whispered. “It’s the girl with the red braid. The one we saw on the promenade.”
The red-braided Amazon scooted a squeaking chair close to them, sat down, and closed her eyes. Kyle kept glancing at her and away. Emily was scowling. The red-braided woman was amazingly sexy in her leather outfit. It was best to avoid looking in her direction at all, not only because he felt Emily’s eyes on him, but for his own self-composure. He was already feeling powerless and lost. After some minutes, the woman extended a hand toward Emily. As before, the woman never made eye contact. The arm hung there like an offered handshake.
The window cells whirred and closed down to thin slivers from which glaring light streamed in, no longer starlight, but radiation from the sun.
“What should I do?” Emily asked Kyle.
“I don’t know. Amazon touch isn’t poisonous. See what happens. I mean, who knows, you might be the first person ever to really communicate with these things.”
The woman’s arm trembled, and when Emily joined her hand to the other’s hand, Emily’s strength supported them both.
“A flutter in my abdomen. Oh—” She let go. “Kyle, I can’t dismiss it any longer. I know why I’m feeling bad. I don’t mean to be funny, but I am pregnant.”
Until this disclosure, Kyle had borne up to the strangeness, uncertainty, and danger, but the prospect of being a father tipped him over the edge. He jumped from his chair and rampaged around the apartment, flinging his arms and stomping his feet, grunting and cursing. All the while he knew how immature he was acting, and part of him observed that the aliens watched him with more focused interest than usual.
The exertion sent him into spasms of coughing. He calmed himself until the irritation subsided, and he flopped back into his chair, quietly saying, “Sorry, sorry. I just had to explode. I knew you’d get pregnant eventually. Fecund.”
“So, you’re fine with it?”
“What’s the alternative?”
She squeezed his arm. “Kyle, there’s more.”
“Twins? Oh, cool.”
“Our baby. She’s why we’re alive. It’s why the aliens didn’t kill us on the promenade.”
He cast a fearful gaze at the woman with the red braid and then back to Emily.
Emily looked like she did when she had received the news about passing her OB-GYN boards, when he had proposed to her, during their wedding, when he had agreed to the entomological expedition to
She was elated. Malaysia
“So the aliens don’t kill pregnant women?” he asked.
“They’ve been communicating to me through our baby all this time. It explains everything. Only their pre-natal form is sentient. Imagine. It’s so weird. And there’s so much more.”
When she had taken the Amazon’s hand, Emily felt as if a feature film had been loaded into her brain. She saw an incredibly beautiful brown, cream, and blue world becoming polluted by volcanic gases inexorably, imperceptibly like a sea becomes salty. She watched the people send scout vessels to Earth and other nearby worlds millennia ago—the scouts who came to Earth never returned. Then she observed the centuries-long project of building massive ships and the preparation for evacuating their planet. When they launched, some stayed behind, refusing to adopt the new technology.
Kyle was watching her with apprehension. Poor man. The Amazons regard him as my pet, or rather our baby’s pet, kept alive as a sperm bank. Feminism in extreme, she thought, except women are only hosts, useful as incubators and bearers of mammary glands—the food sources for future incubators.
“They’re called Scythians,” she said to Kyle. “Only pregnant females are active. The moment the fertilization process is complete, their embryos are conscious, and as they develop during pregnancy, they manipulate their vegetative host mothers’ bodies and telepathically assimilate their race’s knowledge and skills. Their higher brain functions end soon after birth.”
“The women act like they’re puppets,” Kyle said.
“Birth is death for them. The pre-born child of this Amazon is named… It’s Aegea,” she said, motioning toward the woman with the red braid.
Back doors to the apartment slid open, and two alert Amazons with flat tummies, who must be newly pregnant, pulled in a cart laden with stacks of clear polymer cases. The floor under the deep red cushion of air beneath the cart creaked.
The baby began crying in earnest. Emily stood up just as the escorts stepped outside and led another Amazon in by a leash, a mindless sleepwalker. She looked to be no more than 16 years old, but her swelled breasts leaked milk that soaked her garment. The escorts guided her to a couch and settled her, undoing a snap to expose one breast, and then an escort gathered the baby from Emily, arranged the nursemaid’s arms, and placed the baby into position. The baby grunted in a tiny greedy voice and rooted until his mouth found the nipple.
“The… nursemaid is producing… colostrums,” the Amazon in the leather sari said with a strange accent, her voice resonating with harmonious overtones. She moved to the cart and with a sweep of her arms pantomimed giving it to Emily. “We regret killing your peoples. Please accept this mineral element as compensation. The element is called… the element doesn’t exist in your solar system. It’s not radioactive. It’s natural and the basis of our technology.”
Kyle opened one of the cases and lifted a clear, walnut-sized purple crystal, one resembling the gem that the woman in the sari was wearing, except the facets of his specimen were sharp, and its multiple points protruded like blades of minuscule knives. “Stunning,” Kyle said. “How did you learn our language?”
“From our unborn baby through me,” Emily answered. “Better let me talk, Kyle.”
He rolled his head around as if to say, “Whatever.”
The woman in the sari had begun speaking over Kyle and Emily’s last remarks. “We were unaware that born peoples in your world are fully alive. The bodies of our borns are utilitarian. We preserve the strongest males as breeders and employ artificial insemination. The unneeded borns, we cannibalize, or recycle into base components, such as water and energy. You call it… annihilation. We… forgive us. We thought you were too stupid to clean your own world, so we took it upon ourselves to remove the unwanted pollutions that waste resources. We began in the highest concentrations of pollution.”
“She means the places in the world with high populations and low birthrates,” Emily said to Kyle. “Like
The green woman in the red braid now spoke for the first time. “We thought you’d be glad, and you shocked us when you resisted, so we suspended our settlements. We picked Emily Johnson and you, her embryo, as your planet’s representatives because you were kind. You helped the passing of one of our persons, adopting our beloved departed.” Here she nodded toward the nursing baby. “His name was Herros.”
“Herros?” Emily asked.
“Meaning land, or soil. You also keep a full-grown pet.” The red-braided woman gestured toward Kyle. “We respect our people’s decisions even if they expend extra resources. We tagged him so he’d be safe. I presume he’s a good breeder?”
Kyle rubbed his butt where he had been shot.
“Oh, he’s a terrific breeder,” Emily said. “We’d like to go back now, Aegea. Back to where you found us.”
“I believe it’s important for you to understand that the body pronouncing these words is not conscious. We’ll presently return to the surface, and will you talk with your leaders about us moving onto your world?”
With hand signs punctuating supposedly extrasensory communication to subordinates, Aegea appeared to direct the preparation for Kyle and Emily’s departure. The baby’s crying forced them to pause in a corridor so Emily could change his first diaper, one filled with black tarry crap. Kyle glanced at the sticky mess, felt deathly faint, covered his nose, and steadied himself against the wall. An escort tossed him a bag of extra diapers.
“We move warriors and other lower castes en masse by means of the low-frequency waves,” Aegea said. “For you we’ll employ a glider.”
Accompanied by the escorts bringing the mineral cases, she led the party to a launching bay as huge as a stadium, and then onboard one of the many vessels, each with delicate cerulean blue wings of immense breadth and length. Inside their glider, a transparent wall separated the flight deck from the passenger compartment.
An Amazon sat before the instrument panels in the spacious pilot’s cabin. Kyle, Emily, and Aegea settled into the lounge-like passenger section that was lined with bulging bubble windows. Kyle and Emily with baby Herros slipped into a booth. Aegea took a seat by herself. The two escorts placed the nursemaid on the hard floor, and then took positions before other instrument consoles.
There was a wait, perhaps of an hour, for the parent ship to orbit into position, as Aegea explained.
Once the glider launched, Kyle saw the Earth turning below, a shining, living jewel, and all around him hundreds of ships. The astounding perspective, so far above the environment of safe, human habitation, rather than increasing his fear, gave him a feeling of resignation and calm.
“How many of you are there?” Kyle asked.
Aegea stared at him like he might be a talking fencepost and looked to Emily to interpret.
“How many of you are there?” she repeated.
“We are 259 millions. Other ships are orbiting on the opposite side of your planet. Many haven’t arrived.”
“Earth is already crowded in many places,” Emily said. “Not everyone on our planet will want you to live here. Some will fight. You should know… we have nuclear weapons.”
Aegea unexpectedly giggled. “Our sunbeams can recycle the organic population of a whole city instantaneously. Those you defeated were not our warriors, but sanitation workers. Even this tiny vessel is armed.” Here she glanced toward an escort at a console. “But we’re not mass murderers. We’ll settle in uninhabited environs. The oceans, or on ice, or in desert. But we are disturbed by hints in your cultures.”
“You mean, our wars? Our savage nature?”
Aegea sang a note deep in her throat. “We have our own intra-species conflicts, but how do you sustain your varied populations with un-natural, low birth rates? You are Earth’s ambassador, and we’ll tell you our decision soon.”
“So, we’re keeping baby Herros and the nursemaid, right?” Kyle said.
Aegea stared at him again. “We aren’t accustomed to conversant pets. Put the creatures to sleep if you wish. Or recycle them. Their hides make comfortable garments.”
“You skin them?” Emily cringed and pressed her free hand over her ear, a sign of an impending migraine. She unclipped her barrette and began working the braids out of her hair.
“These creatures are superfluous.”
“Kyle, we have to keep them.”
“Yeah, we’ve decided. Those crystals will be worth something. We should be able to afford the added expense.”
“It’s surprising that you’re horrified at our way of life,” Aegea said.
“I’m wondering if you provide your unwanted newborn children with…” Kyle began, but Aegea turned away and walked to a console. “Anything,” he muttered to himself.
When Kyle flew, he always reserved a window seat and spent hours gazing at the passing sky and earth below. The field of view from the glider’s windows exceeded that from a jet airplane by several magnitudes. The glider’s four wings resembled a dragonfly’s, broad as well as long, but instead of two pairs joined at the shoulder, the pairs were placed at the ends of the vessel. They tilted and twisted independently, responsive to every subtle maneuver. Kyle heard no engines nor felt any vibration.
He snuggled up to Emily, whose head was bobbing, her eyes half closed. “I have names picked for our baby,” he said.
“It’s a girl,” she said groggily.
“How do you know?”
“I just do. I picked a name, too.”
“Oh.” Ordinarily Kyle would have argued over whose name was better and who’d have the deciding vote, but this time his wife’s take-charge attitude just hurt him. Why didn’t she ask him what name he wanted? He drew away.
Emily must have sensed his thought. “What’s the girl’s name you picked?”
“I like it. Honeybee. Never mind what I was thinking.”
Kyle gazed from the window feeling for the first time in a long while the support Emily had given him when they first married. In spite of the spectacular views, he grew relaxed and drowsy. The glider sailed down and down in spiraling circles until two ugly, grey, misshapen moths—no, fighter jets—reared up beside them.
His soothing meditation disturbed, he left his seat and wandered through the cabin, watching from different windows. Actually, there were three more fighters out there bristling with weaponry.
“What do they want?” Aegea asked Kyle.
“Our planet to be safe.”
“We have no way to contact them,” Aegea said. “They’ll have to be patient. Will they fire?”
“They’re probably accompanying us to the airport.”
“Why should we go to an airport?”
Emily checked baby Herros (who was dozing next to the inert nursemaid), took out her phone and brushed back her hair with one hand. “I’ve got reception. I’m calling Matthew.”
Kyle felt the usual twinge of jealousy.
As the glider slipped lower and the air thickened, its descent slowed to the rate of a falling leaf; the fighters veered away, unable to fly at this low speed. Unlike on an airplane, the bumps and drops of the glider were gentle, as on an undulating sea. A grove of giant green and orange golf-tee shaped structures appeared below, each one the height of an electricity-generating windmill and made of iron tracery covered in flowering plants.
“Are we on Earth?” Emily asked, siding up to him.
“There’s the Esplanade.”
“Emily, thank Heavens you’re alive!”
Emily had Matt on speaker again, and it dawned on Kyle that she probably did this to keep Matt at arm’s length, to share what he said with her husband.
She scooted back into their booth. “Matthew, no time for chit-chat. The situation is tense. Kyle and I are with the Amazon diplomat now. They’ve selected us as a go-between for them and Earth. We need to reach the military commanders in
“Okay,” he said, and gave her a northern
number. “Ask for Vance. He’s at the State Department.” Virginia
Vance in turn gave her a number whose owner gave her another number. Within minutes she had Brigadier General Min on the line, with others up the chain of command connected to the call in-conference.
“One second, gentlemen,” she said, her whole body fidgeting, she seemingly involved in an internal debate. Then, to Kyle’s astonishment, she offered him the phone. “This is your job, husband, pal.”
Kyle hesitated, moved by the respect his wife was showing him. He knew she had been struggling with releasing control. She must have considered how he’d been objectified by the Amazons, and wanted him to know she trusted him.
“General Min, this is Kyle Johnson. My pregnant wife and I are inside the Amazon vessel near the Esplanade, whatever happens don’t—”
“I know who you are. I’ve been told you provided a science officer insights that helped us assemble shielding against the death rays. Mr. Johnson, tell the aliens to surrender, or they will be destroyed.”
Kyle needed to think, but nothing came to him. The situation was impossible. He leaned into the bubble of the window. The glider was dropping toward a wide, paved strip near the water—probably a boulevard. Stalling, hoping for a flash of genius, he resumed a seat next to Emily, who had taken up the baby, and put his arm around her shoulder. Even the landing was of a leaf, alighting with barely a rustle. Kyle wondered how with such low energy it could ascend back into space. Outside the window, the glider was being surrounded by tanks, armored vehicles, and an artillery piece.
The Amazons did not seem concerned. The pilot entered the passenger section and took the place of one of the escorts at a console. The freed escort pulled down a screen and studied it. Aegea was watching over her shoulder.
“Are you there, Mr. Johnson?”
The answer was obvious and elementary. “Please don’t fire on the vessel, sir. Your aggression will only aggravate them.”
“We’re giving them four minutes to surrender. We’re not allowing any more people to be vaporized. Do you know how many they murdered? At least 128,430. Men, women, and children.”
Kyle was appalled by the number, but he forced himself to focus on his task. “Take no action, sir. Please, just let us arrange a meeting.”
“There’s no talking in these present conditions. We have infrared and know six total beings are on board. All of you leave the vessel. Time is wasting, Mr. Johnson. We will destroy the vessel.”
“Eleven persons on board,” Emily said under her breath.
“Wait, sir,” Kyle pleaded, but the general had already disconnected the call.
Aegea, the pilot, and an escort had drawn into a circle, touching fingertips. Aegea broke away and stepped to Emily and Kyle. She was shaking, her face contorted by naked anger and disgust.
“You are evil,” she said spitting out the words. “You savages are pure evil. I hold you in contempt. We should annihilate you all.”
“What are you saying?” Emily put her hand on Aegea’s arm, but the alien leaped away backwards, glaring with ferocity.
“We connected to your world-wide info system. Your race may not possess full sentience when your lives initiate, but all of you have the active potential, which is a form of sentience. You refuse to see the continuity of every person’s life. I despise you. You’re murderous, bloodthirsty barbarians. You don’t deserve to exist. Your planet is cursed. Get off my ship. Take your borns and get out. We’re leaving!”
Emily began shaking at this frenzied outburst. “I know what you’re talking about, but what about you? Do your newborns communicate?” she cried out. “Do they?”
As if to emphasize Emily’s accusation, baby Herros jerked awake and began screaming.
The door to the outside was opening. The escorts dragged the nursemaid through and dumped her on the pavement. The pilot hustled into the cockpit and began tweaking instruments, which set the wings of the vessel pulsing up and down. The escorts dashed inside, grabbed Emily, and began pushing her and Herros out the door. Kyle shoved the women away, bellowing, “Back off, bitches,” and supported Emily down the steps, which began retracting before they touched the ground. The door slammed inward, sealed with a hiss, and as the wings lifted and dropped in unison, the vessel sprung into the air, seemingly buoyed from below by red beams.
“Move,” he said to Emily and lifted the nursemaid. As a clump, they shuffled away from the craft while the red light grew in intensity and oozed in every direction like a melting marshmallow. The wings cycled once more, and the vessel rose higher and caught an updraft of air. At that moment the wings blurred into invisibility. A boom and a whistling roar. Kyle glanced up to glimpse a missile streaking from the military cavalcade. “Get down!” he shouted, and they fell into a heap, with Kyle trying to cover the others with his body. The missile exploded, sending the vessel careening sideways and pounding Kyle and the others with a crushing pressure wave.
When Kyle looked up, the vessel seemed undamaged and had resumed its climb, but the explosion had rebounded, shrieking straight back to the artillery piece and blowing it into flying jagged fragments of smoking metal. Emily screamed once and was crying beside him. Violet sunbeams emanated from the vessel and even from the sky above and glowed around them. Kyle heard no unusual sounds, but from the direction of the encircling armaments, grey steam, black smoke and ash ascended, like from the grand finale of a fireworks show. The textured columns, still holding vague shapes of people, flowed eastward.
“I’m sure every soldier is destroyed,” Kyle said. “And maybe every living person in the city but us.” Emily was panting in a speechless stupor. He tried to hold her, but she fended him off, so he gathered the stunned, whimpering baby into his arms.
Herros swept the long-handled net, lost his footing, and surfed down the turf bank into a thicket of violet asters, flowers lively with orange and black monarch butterflies. Laughing, Emily lurched forward to keep from falling backward in her folding camp chair.
“Good going, brother,” Meliss said. “You caught it! Here, hand me the net.” Despite her words, Meliss did not move to seize the net. “Ummm, sorry Herros, I don’t need to be your supervisor.”
Emily’s laugh this time was to herself. She surely had passed some of her alpha genes to her daughter.
Herros climbed the bank as he held the net aloft. Meliss reached into the net and gently enveloped the struggling insect into her cupped hands. She maneuvered so as to pinch the front edges of its wings together. “Ready.”
Her brother pressed a white dot under the hind wing.
Meliss placed the butterfly on her open palm, and the butterfly flapped away as if the delay had only made it more determined to reach its southward destination.
“What’s the count now, Dad?” Herros called to Kyle who with daughters
and Slanda were pacing up and down on the sidewalk, their faces turned toward
the sky. Asmara
“467 in just over an hour.”
“Amazing. We’ve tagged 34.”
The edge of a mountainous cumulous cloud passed before the sun, and the passably warm October air promptly turned chilly even for this elevation in the southern
Appalachians. Emily levered up to her feet, took a fleece
blanket, and spread it over the shoulders of the young woman sitting in the
chair beside hers. The woman was stroking the ruddy fur of an adolescent cat
perched primly in her lap.
“Is that better, Camilla?” Emily asked.
Camilla pointed to the western sky where dark silhouettes of monarchs, alone and in lines, were gliding south on the thermals. Sunrays filtered down from the edges of the cloud blocking the sun, the rays formed of nearly parallel bars of shadow and light. Natural rays, Emily thought, and as they often did, reminding her of the cataclysmic day in
17 years ago. Singapore
But why were the memories so strong today?
As they had learned, only a few of the soldiers near the Esplanade had been killed in the final skirmish. Kyle’s idea of layering acoustic insulating panels as shielding had saved many lives. After the shock and days of recuperation, she and Kyle canceled their entomology safari and returned home to
. The guide company didn’t mind. As far as
their people knew, Kyle and Emily had saved the whole world. North
She had thought Herros’ alertness and evident intelligence as a newborn would fade away, but it didn’t. Doctors and researchers poked, prodded, tested and observed, but by all evidences, he developed as a normal boy, with a normal human color, if somewhat olive. Camilla the nursemaid lost much of her green, and in time became bathroom trained and learned to feed herself.
What might it be about Earth that allowed Herros to thrive and gave Camilla a sort of independent life? With deep affection, Emily watched Camilla smile and poke an index finger toward the sky as she pretended to count butterflies.
Camilla would always need special care, but to Emily’s consolation, the woman’s condition didn’t prevent her from having a boyfriend, Chad, a man with high functioning Down syndrome who visited their home twice a week and read her children’s board books. Emily took steps to ensure no hanky-panky ensued, but she still worried if she had allowed gaps in her watchfulness…
The Amazons had retained the bins of purple element crystals. Kyle sold a specimen he had stashed in the diaper bag. The Smithsonian paid a hefty sum, and this money and gifts from around the planet allowed him to quit at the architectural firm and Emily to stop taking new patients. The ‘pet tag’ in his backside became infected, so he had it removed. With Emily’s encouragement, he created his own acoustic company. With the sudden addition of a family and the onset of their shared busyness and responsibilities, including the birth of two daughters in succession, many of the conflicts Emily and he had before faded away. Maybe their interpersonal problems lurked in the background, or maybe they never were important…
A troop of children noisily unloaded from a school van, and Meliss was now giving them an impromptu lecture on monarch migration and how to begin butterfly sanctuaries in their yards and gardens. Herros had pulled out his camera and was capturing close-ups of monarchs feeding on a goldenrod cluster. Every once in a while, he and Meliss glanced at each other, probably reminding themselves they needed to return to their tagging work. The step-siblings never discussed it, but Emily knew they communicated telepathically-she herself picked up whispers of their thoughts, or was it only her motherly intuition?
“490,” Kyle called out.
Camilla screeched, made faces, and waved her arms. She kept screeching until Emily came over and asked, “Where?” thinking Camilla might have seen some migrating broad wing hawks overhead.
Camilla grew still and gazed south across the green and autumnal red contours of the lower hills.
Emily pulled her jacket closer, much as she did her nightgown in the hotel room when she watched the majestic, surreal sunrise in
years ago. Directly south, a striated patch of deep red sunbeam poured down,
and not from the sun. The beam swept closer. Kyle saw it, too, and he, Singapore , and Slanda came to
stand next to Camilla and Emily. Asmara
Meliss and Herros joined them. Their composed faces told Emily that they already knew what was happening. The beam settled around them, and both siblings glanced to an adjacent grassy area. Already waddling toward them was a young green woman wearing stitched scraps of cloth, her belly distended like birth was imminent. Meliss and Herros met and hugged her, then turning and each taking an arm, they led the girl to the Johnson huddle.
She stood fixed in place with her eyes downcast. Absent was the fierce arrogance and remoteness Emily had remembered in the faces of the Amazons.
“You might recognize a resemblance to her mother—the woman with the red braid,” Herros said. “This woman you see is Aegea, the same pre-natal Aegea you knew years ago. Her own baby risked their lives and defied the Scythian hierarchy to bring them here from their new world.”
The woman leaned sideways like she might fall. Meliss and Herros lowered her into a kneeling position.
She clasped her hands before her and searched from face to face. “Please,” she said, “my mother, whose body you see, is sorry for what she said when she left you.” She closed her eyes to absorb a passing contraction. “We’re no better than you. Our element is diffused within our technology—it sublimates directly from the solid form and poisons our air. It dissolves into our water. It penetrates all non-living barriers. Rendering it safe is impossible. It’s why our higher brain functions fail soon after the mother’s body no longer protects us. Our people are stubborn. Most deny the element’s poisonous quality and are unwilling to let our technology go. My mother passed shadows of her memories to me. Will you take care of us?” she asked. “Both of us, after I am born?”
Emily caught a movement in her peripheral vision. She turned to see who it was—probably a stranger who had taken an interest in the odd circle standing around a kneeling, green-painted woman.
To her surprise it was Camilla, who said clear as day, “Of course, we will. Welcome to our growing family.”
“Camilla!” Emily said. “What happened?... Oh.” For an instant she was mortified that she hadn’t kept closer watch on her and
. It must
have happened last week when she dozed off on the couch while catching up on
her favorite vlog. But, no, this is
better. “Camilla, are you pregnant?” Chad
“She is pregnant,” Camilla’s voice said. “Of course, she is. Fertilization concluded, sparking my life into existence.”
Helped by Meliss and Herros, Aegea stiffly stood up.
“What do you think, husband? Ready for new responsibility?” Emily playfully hip-bumped him.
He shifted to catch his balance, and a boyish grin flickered and then overwhelmed his face. Two butterflies at that moment floated over his head, darting toward each other in a delicate dance. “Okay with me.” Spreading his arms as if to embrace the whole of Earth, he said, “There’s always room for more, I guess. Just never, ever expect me to change any messy diapers.” He gazed upward and flapped his arms down in dismay, slapping his thighs.
“Look!” Camilla was pointing again. High above, and from the perspective where Emily stood, nearly the same diminutive size as the butterflies passing over, more than two dozen Amazon gliders soared in graceful spirals, each vessel now angling its lacy blue wings for descent.
“We’re not the only defectors,” Aegea’s child said.