by chrissy king
A female alone on a planet of aliens, can she live among them? Can she integrate?
For this diary of sorts, I will use one of the native languages of this world so I can record these observations. It is something I need to practice and can be translated later, if my superiors see any use in the random thoughts of a subordinate.
On this world I am often puzzled and even confused; however, it is a clear violation of my intensive training to say so. I feel I need a private record as a way to help me make sense of all I see, maybe I will need to edit this if I ever return home.
December, they call it. It´s followed by January and then the others, they call them months. The names of these months seem to be steeped in the history of this orb; this season is the dead one: Winter.
There was a celebration period over the change from one month to the next. It is odd they only do this at this time of their lunar cycle. I stayed in my small rooms and ignored the lights and festivities. I should have reported on them, but I could not understand the customs and was concerned that I might expose my mission by ignorance.
I feigned illness; this seemed to stop too many questions.
My surveillance reports are complete for Bridgeton and up to date.
Completed, sent and I assume filed with the authorities as they see fit. I feel that now I can write the personal stuff, which is probably just for me, but who knows? Who knows what the establishment will want to do with these creatures, this "live-stock."
Maybe my testimony will be transcribed, maybe not. I stay here now in Bridgeton and do my job; awaiting collection and transportation to my own home. I never admit to any mystification to my superiors as this implies curiosity, I should not be curious.
This little village is known as Bridgeton, small and intimate, my assignment and my curse.
My time among this species becomes more involved every day. Their history is starting to interest me, as are their various personhoods. All the ‘powers that be’ see in them is food, and I must admit they are indeed tasty, but my mission has not allowed me to eat any for quite some time. That could get me locked away in one of their cells and possibly hung from a rope or burned in a chair with their unsophisticated electricity, a crude force that consumes their planets resources’ and which seems to control and drive their entire society.
My training has taught me to avoid words like extraordinary and strange (although I still use them on occasion). There is nothing really strange about any alien entity. These humans are doing what they have done for eons, ever since they dragged themselves from the slime and began to evolve. The study of another species does not allow for shock at strange customs. If it did, I would be astounded every day, I confess that I was overwhelmed when I first arrived in Bridgeton but professionally I have always needed to curb that.
Sarah Latters just came into the shop that I am using for my assignment cover story.
I have noticed recently that Sarah, a young female who has just arrived at her reproduction season, has quite a lot of interest from the young males here. I suppose they want to procreate with her. But there are some rules they have against that. They say she is too young to breed. My species has no such rules, but our females like myself are only able to breed once, and we have control over when and who we breed with. Males usually just hope they will be picked to carry on their genes.
Sarah's visit is over. She brought me some dead nettles and a few pine cones. She says I can boil them and make tea, she stated that "city people" like me often don't know that. It would seem they have a lot of growing things, even in the dead season. They are a hardy species and resourceful.
Sarah smelled like their malodorous flowers smeared over good, fresh flesh. In another life, in another role, if I had been lucky enough to find such a morsel I would have willingly killed and eaten her. We enjoy our meat still warm and raw, cooking meat has everything to do with burning the flesh, tainting it with traces of ash which makes it totally inedible. I remember that from my days as a hunter, we never smoked out our prey as it contaminates the excellent flesh.
Still, Sarah seems agreeable and pleasant. These creatures can be that way. She looked at all the scrap I have in my antique shop and fingered through some of the old dusty music discs.
She asked me questions about where I get my stuff. I told her that I have several sources and often go scouting in old houses. All a lie, my shop is filled with junk that I bought all at once from a trader in another village who was shutting up his business. I used most of the currency bills that the authorities gave me. I have no idea what half this stuff is, but I pretend, and when I sell some, I can buy some meat from the store.
Mr Berryton, who runs the market, is getting suspicious of my eating habits. He stinks of old dirt and sweat, and I do not think I would bite into his skin even if I were famished. He asked me why all I ever buy is pieces of animal flesh.
I told him I had a garden out behind my tiny living quarters at the store. "I get all the plants I need." I said to him.
"You mean all your vegetables?" he said raising an overgrown grey eyebrow.
"Yes, those," I spoke in the tone of the recluse I was forced to be. Little did Mr Berryton know that most of the other foodstuffs in his market store were poisonous to me and my kind. One carrot or a piece of the synthetic toxin that they call chocolate would probably kill me in less than a minute. Meat is all our systems can tolerate, and the best tasting meat of all comes from the younger ones of Berryton's kind.
But while I must wait on a decision from the authorities whether or not to farm these creatures, the other animals that these upright beasts eat will do, just as long as I keep it raw.
I drift around Bridgeton and various people recognize and greet me. All they know is that I am Zara Mathews who bought the antique store on Second Street and that I am from ‘the city,’ and it doesn't matter which city because all cities are the same to these creatures. By their own designation, these are "country" people and very proud of it.
They have unique values not seen in the cities. I am supposed to learn more about them and report back.
Somewhere far above me decisions are being made, and I wonder just how much my official annotations will affect these decisions.
This entire sphere was granted to my people by a treaty that was concluded long before I was born, we got a pretty bad deal. The plants are almost all toxic, and really there are only the animals. Food is our main interest on this planet. At times, I wish I could get the flavour of their tissue off my mind. I wish I could digest their pigs, cows and goats better. I want to drink the blood of these human animals again and feel the old surge I used to, but for now it is forbidden.
My mastery of their language and its accents is complete now, and I am totally invisible as far as most of them are concerned. I give no hint when I pass them in the streets that I would love to eat them. But a full immersion job is just that. I have a role to play and a task to perform.
I am always amused to hear them call me Zara, a name I chose, because when they say it, it actually sounds a little like my real name, which I can't pronounce unless I shed these human trappings and regain my true vocal apparatus. But that is not going to happen soon. If they saw me as I really am, they would shoot me on sight with one of their primitive projectile weapons or maybe they would burn me with their electricity. I would look as horrible to them as they once did to me. I'm glad I am over that now.
Sarah is back to rummaging through the old, dusty junk I sell. She smells fresh and young just like she is. After a while she quits digging in the boxes and turns to me. "What are you writing?" she asks.
"My journal," I say without looking up. The smell of her tissue is too tempting. I still have the instincts of my race. I have the same hunger as my predecessors who just hunted here or who kidnapped and took the creatures off for tasty provender.
I have, in fact, a kind of liking for Sarah. There is no way that I would allow myself to kill and eat her unless I was inebriated on some of their blood.
Sarah is gone again now. She wanted to talk. I need to write about what she told me. I'll fold up and sleep for a time and do that later.
Sarah Latters made a strange confession.
There I go again, against all my schooling I wrote. "Strange."
There is nothing strange about an alien species when you have my job. Just original, and with any semi-intelligent species you would expect original.
Still, their sudden shifts of behaviour never fail to startle me.
It is their month of February now, which still means the dead season, winter. If they want to divide up their periods of time according to a satellite, that is their business. I really don't care what their moon does. It is bleak and uninteresting to me, like their plants and really like most of the rest of their sphere.
All I have been thinking about lately is killing and eating one of them. I need to find one that is young enough to be succulent but who would not be noticed as missing in tiny Bridgeton.
I have been thinking about the highway again. Hitch hikers. I've had them before. They disappear without a trace and no one cares. Runaway’s, tasty, young and full of fear.
But I must try to get my mind back to Sarah. She comes over and tells me a few things. I learn that she is fifteen of their solar cycles old. I learn that she has a boyfriend, a specimen called Lance something. She and Lance have been mating for some time now. The creatures do that here. They conjoin for the sole pleasure of conjoining. But Lance, who also clocks fifteen of their so-called years, has not found a safe place during the cold season where he can mate with Sarah. I do not know why she feels she should share this information with me, but I take note in case it is important later.
I try not to think about the mating habits of these animals the last thing on this sphere that I would ever want to do is see these loathsome beings copulate with one another. They have organs that make no sense to me. My outer shell, which is assumed as a cloak over my real identity, thankfully does not have any such organs: some kind of stiff cylinder and a wet fissure, really the last things I would care to see. These are the parts my people throw away when they consume one of these beings. We crave the blood from their veins, the meaty flesh and the marrow from their bones.
One thing that I have noted in my sociological study of human clustering is that certain of these beings are inherently sexual. Mating for pleasure is something that my species does not do, and once again I am confused, but not beyond the point of scientific inquiry.
I also know what is meant by a minor. Sarah and Lance are definitely minors, and it is one of the taboos of their social order for minors to copulate. But I have learned that they do it everywhere and usually with impunity.
She stops talking and looks at me with her head on one side.
"I'm developed," she said defiantly. "I have been for some time. I am not a child.”
I shrugged in an off-hand way.
"Will you let Lance and me do it in the cellar? We won't give you any trouble."
It seems like a bad idea but Sarah could bring trouble if I tell her ‘No’ and I don’t really care what she does in the dark cellar.
At length, I decided to give in.
Sarah was pungent with hormones that I hadn't sensed since my hunting days and I didn't want to get any closer. My interests were purely culinary, as one of these creatures might feel for a crawling lobster or crab, which they so readily consume.
February 14th: Valentine's Day
They show each other affection on this day.
That was all I ever told the authorities because, truthfully, I never really understood it and still don't.
Sarah came today with Lance at her side. He is a tall, long-limbed specimen with hair that looks to be the colour of an orange---one of their hideous fruits that is so lethal to those of my kind. Also, his teeth are bad. He inhales and exhales smoke from another toxic plant that grows here. But he is as young as Sarah and the urge to pounce on him for a meal is very strong. I need to remain professional.
"Happy Valentine's Day," she says, her face flushed with the blood I so desire to drink warm.
"Same to you. I suppose you two want to..."
"Go downstairs," says Lance squinting at me, he slurs his words. I notice that one of his eyes is much larger than the other and does not look in the same direction. I start to think about mental deficiency. Yes, these two are lacking in their intelligence. In a different role, I would eat them right away. A stupid animal is worse than a smart one, and much easier to kill.
I did not see them leave but I was sure they would be back.
Sure enough, over the subsequent weeks, they came and went more than a few times.
Paul Jackson has begun to be a problem.
Paul Jackson is a local man whom I had met several times while shopping at Berryton's supermarket. He was another one who liked to cock his head at me in some kind of undisguised wonderment about why I bought so much meat and nothing else.
But during the first part of the dead season when I had first established myself in Bridgeton, he had rubbed against me ‘accidentally’ in the checkout line and said "Hi."
"Hi," was all he said but it was full of intention. He was the kind that the authorities had warned me about. A man without a mate desperately looking for a woman to copulate with. The appearance I had covered myself with made me look like a human having around thirty-five years of their time, and Paul must have been the same.
He was a shapely specimen, slim and quite muscular. Full of overpowering body fragrances too, the sort which whet the appetite of my species, the smells, as it were, of the liquid exuded by the pores that these creatures have in their flesh.
In my shopping cart were hunks of animal flesh that were already growing stale. The natural juices of the animal were nearly gone, and the blood that remained in the meat was rancid to my taste. My type like their food raw and fresh, warm if possible.
So many of the beasts here cover themselves in the stink of flowers and other noxious substances that mask their natural succulence, but Paul did not.
I had made it clear that I had no interest in Paul and that seemed to make him more eager to impress me.
I was unsure of how to handle the situation but had heard that he was using the word “Gay” around village to describe me. I knew ‘Gay’ meant that the same sex of their species coupled together. I had heard the word before and it did not bother me, what did I care what the village folk thought I did in my private life? I only worried it could mean trouble, but I hoped it might mean Paul would leave me alone, I found it hard to keep to my protocols when he was around.
One day as the snow was finally turning brittle and dripping back into water, Paul came by the shop. His body odour intoxicated me and excited my ravenous hunger right from the time he walked through the door. He looked at me and smiled and then proceeded to mull around the shop, fingering each antiquated item in the piles as he went. I asked him what he was looking for and he smiled like a snake about to strike.
"A real woman," he said lecherously. "I've been on the market for over six months now, and I've not found one who could satisfy me. These homebodies are not to my liking and they all disgust me anyway. A single person in a small village can get some unwanted attention, yet we can also get very lonely, don’t you think?"
I sensed the danger of his remark, the smell of lust and delicious hormones was filling every corner of the room. I realized that if I got too close to him I might spring out of my human cloak and rip him to shreds without being able to control myself.
"You're a lesbian, aren't you? I´ve heard the rumours" he said, resuming his tinkering around in the piles of trash I kept. "I can see it in your eyes. You don’t look at me like most women do, your eyes are flat like a fish's eyes. But you're a handsome woman and probably have a past. You came here to escape something, didn't you? Maybe I could reform you? Maybe we could help each other?" As he spoke one of his hands kept fiddling around in a bin of unsorted objects that I had bought to set up my phony store.
I had never bothered to examine the stuff.
I found it all so boring, I just sorted what I felt might sell.
Others of my kind, steeped in science and history, would have found it all interesting but the social order and mannerisms was my specialty. Their fascination with trinkets of junk from their collective history was only something I noted and dismissed as irrelevant to our consumption needs at present. Who cares what an animal collects?
But Paul pulled out something from the pile that seized my attention. It was something I had seen before in another place at another time. It even had a name in my language. But because I had never used one, I could not recall the exact pronunciation.
It was a dark little horn-shaped object with a fluted end which was burled and convoluted into endless twists and turns and in all reality looked something like the tasty heart of a human, only more distorted in its many folds. One side of the small object was flat and covered with a silver coating.
"What's this little piece of rusty tat?" asked Paula with a sneer. "You sell the ugliest junk here."
"Just put it back. It is probably some old-fashioned art object."
"Looks like a sick rose. What does it do?"
At that moment, an old man called Dan Walker came in.
Paula dropped the item and throwing Dan a dirty look she stalked out the door.
“Dirty womaniser” Dan said as he passed by, just loud enough for me and Paul to hear. I saw him freeze for a moment and then he carried on past him and I heard Paul say, “Have another drink Dan” As he headed down the street.
Dan tutted as he watched him walk away. “He’s been bothering you too?” He asked it but didn’t seem to require an answer, so I grunted in a non-committal way.
Dan turned and looked me up and down his eyes flashed with something, but I could not read what it was. “I recon he might be barking up the wrong tree with you.” I grunted again unsure of his meaning but feeling a chasm opening up in front of me.
I did not want to get into a deep conversation with Dan.
Then, without warning, Dan walked over to the wooden junk bin and retrieved the apparatus that had so fascinated Paul. He tossed it about in his hands for a few minutes then said: "I've seen one of these before." With his words came a strange, faraway look in his eyes, as if he were peering back into some dark episode from his youth. The fact that he said he'd seen one before made him dangerous. In fact, danger was brewing all around me.
Dan dropped it back into the crate and nodded at me. “You coming to church Sunday?” he asked, I nodded and smiled with my human mouth. “I will try Dan.” I promised.