Close Encounters 2

For two weeks after my incredible encounter with the telepathic Vanzatoan, I was busy at work, babying the jury-rigged attenuator along and dealing with the usual amount of breakdowns as well. The soil of Ixion is rich in minerals and metals, but also contains high levels of sulfuric acid, which wears down the mining equipment very quickly. I hadn’t been able to leave work on time for a while, and was feeling the strain of being sex-deprived, so it was with great relief that I installed the replacement part for the attenuator when it finally arrived — even though I had to stay late again.

At least it was Friday, so I could rest in the next two days. After showering and changing into my own clothes, I got on the hover-bus with some trepidation. It had been another Friday night that I’d met my lavender-gray (and male) Vanzatoan beauty, and I’d left work around the same time that night, too; however, I was relieved to see that the hover-bus was empty tonight. Besides, I chided myself, I’d taken a different route then — the one going straight home — whereas tonight I was going to The Ferrule in the market district for dinner.

Once there, I was surprised to see Myrna, a leggy natural blonde who had dyed her hair bright red — apparently in an attempt to compete with the Vanzatoan females for the attention of their males. She and I had commiserated once before on our lack of luck, afterwards going home to my place for some great sex, so I was glad to take her up on her offer again. This time, though, we went to her place, and whether it was because I really needed it or because she was really that good, we had an amazing couple of rounds before we both fell asleep like we were drugged.

She beat me awake with a pillow not two hours later, demanding that I get my clothes on and go home.

“You’ve gotta be shitting me!” I protested, more tired and groggy than I’d been in a long time.

“I’m not! I work third shift now, and you can’t be here when my husband gets home!”

“You have a husband?” I gasped, going into Survival Mode and pulling on my clothes.

“Yeah, he works second shift at the refinery — I thought you knew!”

“I… most definitely… did not!” I declared, yanking on my slacks in a surge of adrenalin.

I made it out to the nearest hover-bus stop, pumped up on panic but jittery from exhaustion. Unfortunately, because it was the middle of the night, there weren’t many routes running. There were the ones for the commuters, of course, to and from the manufacturing district, but not many within the residential area. It was over ninety minutes before one would come by that would also go by my apartment, and although I could’ve arguably walked there by then, I was just too tired to attempt it. I knew that I would fall asleep waiting on the bench for an hour and a half, though, so I decided to go into a nearby grocery mart to keep myself awake.

The bright lights were painful to my eyes when I stepped in, but I kept blinking until I got used to them. I grabbed a basket, too, thinking I should pick up a few things while I was there, and started ambling up and down the aisles. Most of these places looked the same, but I thought this store had a bigger selection of fresh produce than the one near my apartment. Maybe I should try to cook something for a change, I thought. After all, it is the weekend! And it would taste so much better than the meal packs, or even the food served at The Ferrule. I wasn’t a gourmet chef by any means, but at least I could make real mashed potatoes instead of reconstituted potato powder!

As I wandered over to the produce section, I caught a flash of lavender-gray and froze in my tracks. It was HIM! There he was, bent over the radishes — his hair hanging like a gauzy, pale-purple curtain — just a few rows over. I backed up as quickly and quietly as I could, my heart beating like an overworked piston engine. Maybe he wouldn’t notice that I was here. Maybe he didn’t even remember me… I hid in the row of breakfast cereals but couldn’t help peeking around the corner to watch him. Oh, he was so beautiful! How could anyone not be attracted to him? I gazed at his slender figure with a mixture of longing and dread. I knew that he would reject me, that there was not even the remotest chance of his accepting me, but what I wouldn’t give to be — not his lover, that was impossible — just his friend! But of course, I’d blown any chance of that when I’d lusted after his body like some wild, brute animal in heat… even if I hadn’t known at the time that he could read my uncensored thoughts.

I saw him pick up a bumpy green vegetable, which I recognized as nigauri — literally “bitter melon” in Japanese. One of my aunts had cooked it when my family had visited her in Okinawa. I’d spit out my first and only bite because it was so terribly bitter! I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that people actually ate that thing, when there were so many other, much tastier vegetables (or ones that didn’t taste nasty, anyway) available. As the Vanzatoan placed it in his basket, I wanted to dart out and warn him not to buy it, but then again, he’d think that I was a raving lunatic, even if he didn’t remember me from before. Well, at least it wasn’t a very expensive item, and once he’d tried it, he would know better than to buy it again.

I had to tear my eyes off of him, I knew, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. He started walking closer to me, into the citrus fruit aisle, and picked up a grapefruit this time. I grimaced involuntarily. That was another supposed “food” item that I had no use for. Why would anybody eat a grapefruit when there were plenty of sweet oranges and tangerines that weren’t bitter? He was going to have two strikes today, and I hoped that he wouldn’t be turned off from Earthan food for good, as though his feelings towards our produce might affect his feelings towards us as a species. I even contemplated sending him “bitter” vibes, to warn him from taking those, but I didn’t really know how this whole telepathy thing worked, and didn’t want to alert him to my presence in case he did remember me from the last time.

With a last, wistful look, I tiptoed down the aisle and picked up a box of nutrition bars and a small bag of potato chips before passing through the check-out machine and heading back to the hover-bus stop. I ate one bar and the bag of chips, wishing that I’d bought a bottled drink, too, but not daring to go into the store again in case he were still there. Now that my stomach was satisfied and I was left staring at the empty street, though, I grew drowsy. Before I could stop myself, I’d fallen asleep on the bench.

I was trying to catch up with him — my lovely lavender Vanzatoan, of course — in one of the many tunnels of the mine. I was hindered by my full-body gear, which protected me from the toxic gases emanating from the disturbed soil, not to mention the lack of breathable oxygen. The Vanzatoan had no gear on, but didn’t seem to be affected. He was getting further and further away, with those long, graceful strides of his, and I was being left behind. I wanted desperately to tell him something — to warm him about something — but it was no use. My legs were too heavy, my breathing too labored, and I felt an ache in my chest that had nothing to do with my physical heart. I was close to tears with frustration and disappointment.

Then someone was shaking my shoulder, more and more persistently, and I awoke with a snort that was half a sob. Looking up I nearly started out of my skin, for there — looking down at me with his nose not thirty centimeters from my face — was the very Vanzatoan of my dreams! In fact, even though I was now awake, I thought I was dreaming still.

“You have missed the hover-bus for which you were waiting,” came his calm, rather high-pitched voice. All Vanzatoans have a higher vocal range than Earthans, with both females and males in our alto to soprano range. But of course, I wasn’t thinking of that at this point — I was so shocked that I couldn’t think at all. “You had been sleeping for a long time. And yes, I remember you.”

I gaped at him, my lips moving like a goldfish’s mouth but with no words coming out. I was startled even further when the Vanzatoan held out a bottle of water.

“You need this. You are dehydrated,” he told me. When I didn’t take the bottle from him immediately, he opened the cap and nudged it against my hand so I would grab it. I did, still feeling as though I were in a dream, and took a long pull on the water as though my life depended on that drink. And maybe it did, because I started to feel a lot better and my brain began to function.

“I… uh… Thank you,” I finally managed.

“You are welcome.” The Vanzatoan was studying me with those smoky-lavender eyes, leaving me at a loss for words. It was an awkward and long moment, but at the same time I wished it would never end. Then he straightened to his full height, towering above me but still looking at me with an expression that seemed to indicate that he’d come to some kind of conclusion.

“Come with me,” he said, his smooth voice neither cool nor warm. “My house is close. You need to rest.”

Okay, this had to be a dream! I was dreaming, and yet it felt so real… But of course I would follow him. I would follow him to the ends of the universe, if he would let me! I stumbled to my feet, surprised to find the empty potato chip bag on my lap, and stuffed it into the grocery store bag along with the box of nutrition bars and the half-empty bottle of water. If this were a dream, it was about as real as it could get! The Vanzatoan was walking away from me, so I scurried to catch up, anxious from remembering the difficulty I’d had, in my dream, to keep up with him.

His house was a white, boxy structure only a few plots away from the main street where the hover-bus stop and grocery mart were. The gate opened as we drew near, and I barely noticed that the hedge around his plot was of some plant that I’d never seen before — I was too busy trying to collect my thoughts, trying to make sense out of what was happening, and watching the way his Vanzatoan body moved, mesmerized by its fluidity. He led me into his house, where I had a vague sense of high ceilings and colorful paintings on the walls, but my eyes were now glued to his delicate face.

“We must discuss some things… many things,” he said, with what sounded like a sigh. “But not now. You must rest, for you are very tired. You may sleep in my bed until you are refreshed. I will be in my studio.”

He indicated the bedroom with a sweep of his hand, and also a small building in the back yard that I could see through the double glass doors.

“Come to me when you are ready,” he said, walking toward those doors, which slid soundlessly to either side as he approached.

“Wait!” I called out, hardly knowing what I was doing. He stopped and looked at me. I swallowed before stuttering, “I… I don’t e–even know your n–name!”

“Aurel Vil Galda. You may call me Aurel,” he replied. “What is your name?”

“Jun Nakamura,” I answered, repeating to myself, Aurel… Aurel… Aurel… It was the most beautiful name that I’d ever heard!

“Sleep well, Jun Nakamura,” he intoned like a blessing, pronouncing my name carefully, then walked out to his yard and disappeared into the other building.

I stood there looking after him, dazed for a few minutes, until I realized that I was about to fall asleep on my feet and forced myself to enter his bedroom. I stripped out of my outer clothes and crawled into his bed, unconscious by the time my head touched his pillow.

When I awoke, the sun (actually 51 Pegasi) was high in the sky, assaulting my eyes as it slanted through the horizontal blinds. I was still drowsy, so it took me a while to take stock of my surroundings. The room was white — white walls, white carpet, even white furniture and white sheets on the bed — but there was some artwork on the far wall that seemed to be made of colored fibers, wound and twisted around each other to make a three-dimensional sculpture. As I gazed at it, my brain still slow and sluggish, I thought its colors shifted subtly. I rubbed my eyes and yawned, realizing that I needed to answer the call of nature.

Where was I? Or, more pertinently, whom did I sex last night? I couldn’t remember right away, but as I sat up and slid my legs out from under the covers, I saw my clothes on the floor along with a bag. Inside was a half-empty bottle of water. With a sensation like an electrical shock, I remembered the lavender-gray Vanzatoan of my fantasies handing me that bottle of water. But of course, that had only been a dream — hadn’t it? But then I saw the empty potato chip bag and the opened box of nutrition bars. My mind went numb with the realization that not only had I met him again, in the store, but also he had led me to his home and let me sleep in his bed.

“Confused” didn’t even begin to cover the roiling chaos of my emotions. When I’d gotten over my initial surge of panic, though, I decided to take care of first things first, and slipped into his bathroom. Hoping that he wouldn’t mind, I washed up using the toiletries that I found in there, and came out feeling better equipped to handle the strangeness of the situation. Once clothed, I took a deep breath and left the bedroom behind, wandering down the hall to the living area.

What greeted me there confirmed that my memory of the night before had not been a dream or hallucination: the pale purple Vanzatoan was standing in his kitchen cooking — of all things — bacon and eggs. My mouth hung open in disbelief, then soon began salivating from the delicious aroma.

“I sensed that you had awakened. This is nearly ready,” my host said with a perfunctory glance in my direction. I drew closer to him, as in a trance. There were so many things that I wanted to ask him, but my mouth was dry again, and I just couldn’t form a coherent sentence.

“We will eat breakfast first,” he said, deftly setting out plates on the counter, “then we will talk.”

He even had coffee brewing in a small coffeemaker. I normally don’t drink coffee — I don’t like the bitter flavor — but at the moment it felt like a very comforting, Earthan sort of thing to find in an extraterrestrial’s kitchen.

“I had not considered that you would dislike coffee,” he said, with what seemed like regret showing on his face. “I can make tea or something else.”

I swallowed hard and managed, “No, that’s okay — I don’t mind.” Right now I had bigger issues to think about, like how the hell he could read my mind so easily!

“The mechanism of telepathy is not well understood, even by the best Vanzatoan scientists,” he replied to my un-vocalized question, never missing a beat as he flipped the eggs over. “They would very much like to understand it and be able to re-create the ability at will. I am fortunate that my father did not want me to become an object of research, and taught me how to hide this ability at a young age.”

In a smooth motion, he poured two mugs of coffee and pushed one of them across the counter to me. I took a sip, watching in awe as he did the same.

“I am hoping that you will be willing to keep this knowledge confidential. It would be very… inconvenient, if certain scientists discovered that I possess such a rare ability.”

He looked directly into my eyes with his own beautiful ones as he said this, although even if he hadn’t my answer would’ve been the same.

“O–Of course!” I told him. “I would never do anything to… uh… inconvenience you.”

“Thank you. I am glad that you feel this way,” he said, and now I was sure that I saw relief in his expression. “I realize it seems… selfish, to withhold such data as they could collect from studying me, but… some of their methods are… unpleasant.”

He served up the eggs and bacon, handing me one of the plates and leading me over to the dining table. Sitting down across from him, I stared as he tucked a dainty morsel into his mouth and chewed. He looked back up at me, somewhat self-consciously, and I flushed bright red at my bad manners. The plate in front of me offered a handy distraction, though, so I took a few delicious bites, much to my hungry stomach’s delight.

“It is very strange,” he — Aurel, I remembered — said after a moment. “I can hear, or sense, most Earthans’ thoughts to some degree. But yours… When I am near you, I can not only hear what you are thinking, and feel what you are feeling, but also… I can see what you are seeing, in your mind.”

I nearly choked on the bite of eggs that I was trying to swallow, remembering some of the explicit scenes that I’d imagined about him (or “her” as I’d mistakenly thought at the time) on the hover-bus. So he’d actually seen all that, too?

“Yes, I did. It was very… surprising, to see the images in your mind so clearly. That is why I was shuddering. It is a rare experience for me. The only other one whose thoughts I can see so clearly is my sister, Liumi. She also has the ability to hear others’ thoughts. I had always believed that our shared ability made it possible for us to communicate with each other so vividly, but then… I can sense your thoughts very vividly, too, even though you are not a Receiver.”

Aurel was tossing out a lot of new information to me, which I gratefully absorbed, getting some answers to my questions. The food was also helping my brain to function better.

“So… for whatever reason, my thoughts come through more clearly than others’?” I asked out loud, wondering if that were a blessing or a curse.

“Yes. And it is a very significant difference, how well your thoughts ‘come through,'” he confirmed.

Yeah, with my dirty imagination, that was a curse!

“I would not say that,” he countered, without my having said a single word. “I understand why you feel that some of your thoughts were… inappropriate. And perhaps they would be, if you had spoken them aloud. But you cannot censure yourself for every thought that passes through your mind. In our culture, nobody can be judged for what he or she has thought — only for what he or she has done.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” I replied. “But I’ll admit, I wouldn’t have lingered on such… well, explicit thoughts, if I’d known you could hear them so clearly!”

He nodded, causing his lavender hair to shimmer in the sunlight. “Of course. And that is what constitutes your character. If you were not embarrassed by what you had been thinking, I would be offended; as it is, I am quite willing to overlook any… improprieties, on your part.”

“Thank you,” I said, and was (for the first time) glad that Aurel could sense how I felt.

“I must thank you, as well,” he responded, “because your thoughts have explained to me much more about your species than I had known before — such as how strong and persistent your instinct for mating is.”

I blushed involuntarily again.

“You must think I’m some kind of animal…” I began, but he shook his head sideways, mesmerizing me with the movement of his hair.

“No. I understand, now, how powerful the instinct is for your species. It is as strong as the need for self-preservation, like satisfying hunger — possibly even stronger. Our different environments must have caused different traits to evolve. Or perhaps, my species was much like yours when we were at the same evolutionary level, and in another millennia or two, yours will be similar to what we are now.”

I was glad that he could think of it that way, and chewed my last piece of bacon. And it suddenly occurred to me that the Vanzatoans must not be vegetarian.

“No, the Merenians are,” Aurel commented.

This reminded me that I had a hundred questions that I wanted to ask him, but I had to try to stop myself (however unsuccessfully) from thinking about them in detail, since most of my questions were X-rated.

“I will not be offended if you ask,” he informed me — obviously sensing the nature of those questions despite my efforts to squelch my thoughts. “But I wonder if I may ask you some questions as well…”

“Of course,” I replied, somewhat surprised. “You’ve been more than generous — letting me sleep here and feeding me, even. I’ll do my best to answer. What do you want to know?”

He looked at me with his large lavender eyes and asked, “Do you really think that I am beautiful?”


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