by Bill Kowaleski
|Cast of Characters and Species||Table of Contents|
Chapter 37: Miles Learns the Truth
In an instant, something hit her hand, hard. The gun flew from her hand, and in the next instant, a short, naked body fell beside her. She heard a snapping noise, turned and saw Jason’s head bounce off of a thick log lying just behind her. His head came back down and snagged on a small branch. His momentum pulled his body away from the log and down a steep slope just beyond the edge of the trail.
As he slid, his snagged mask stayed in place. It pulled all the way off, creating a macabre scene — as though Jason’s face itself had come off and stuck to the branch. Later she figured out that Jason must have slipped on the soft muddy soil after kicking the gun out of her hand. He’d put so much force into his kick that his feet had flown above his head.
Now Maria and Miles stared open-mouthed at something lying unconscious in the mud partway down the slope: the trim, muscular body of a young man, and the head of something out of a horror movie. It was perfectly egg-shaped, completely hairless, with huge, black, saucer-like eyes, open but vacant. Two small holes took the place of a nose, and the mouth was a simple slit devoid of lips. The skin was a strange dark olive; not a human color, more the color of an avocado.
Maria struggled to a sitting position while Miles sat in the mud, staring. They said nothing for a long time. Then Miles said, in a voice little more than a whisper, “He’s an alien. My beautiful Jason is an alien.”
Maria put her ear to the nose holes. “It’s breathing, and I feel a kind of pulse, though it’s very slow. What can it be, Miles? What can this mean? Are they everywhere?”
“He sure fooled me. As intimate as we were, I never doubted.”
Miles paused, then added, “But the snake. I should have suspected him after that. The snake broke its fangs on his leg. It couldn’t penetrate that artificial skin.”
He told Maria the whole story. As she listened, a realization grew: that her fears about the Cygnians had been misplaced, even ridiculous. There were aliens on Earth already, probably lots of them, in disguises impossible to detect. There was no way to get rid of them if they all had such perfect disguises. This one must have been using Miles for some purpose she couldn’t even begin to imagine. That thought gave her a warm glow.
She stood, looked down at Miles, his face still full of dismay and shock.
And then she laughed, a long, deep laugh, full of scorn, full of satisfaction. Finally, she said, “Well, how does it feel: to be manipulated, to be used?”
Now she was shouting. “Doesn’t it feel great, Miles? Isn’t it nice to know that your love, all the noble feelings you had about someone were all just something to use, a weakness to exploit?”
He spoke so softly that she could hardly hear him. “I don’t get it. How was he manipulating me? Why did he do this?”
“Who knows? He’s an alien, after all.”
She stood, he continued to sit. A minute of silence passed. Miles struggled to his feet. Maria picked up her backpack.
“Well,” she said, “I think I’ve accomplished what I came here to do, and more. It’s an hour back to the car. I’d better get going.”
“Don’t leave me alone with this thing!” Miles said, his voice urgent and frightened.
“Oh, you’ve spent quite a bit of time alone with it already,” she said. “You know how to handle him, or it, or whatever you’d rather call it.” She turned and set off into the woods, never looking back.
Miles crouched over the unmoving form of the creature he knew as Jason. He felt along the neckline, pulling the incredibly realistic false skin back, peeking underneath where he could see more avocado skin. The padding of the bodysuit was thinner or thicker in different places, beautifully hiding the differences between the human and the alien forms. He looked up at the mask. A wave of sadness hit him so hard that he gulped air to avoid blacking out. He carefully detached the mask from the snag and fitted it over the alien head. It magically slid down, fitting itself perfectly, seamlessly, and as it did, Jason stirred, groaned, his eyes opened.
“What happened?” he slurred. “Where are we?”
Miles stared at what had again become Jason. Tears streamed down his face. He shook with sobs.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” asked Jason.
Miles abruptly stood. “Don’t ‘honey’ me! I saw the real you. I know what you are.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your head hit that log. Your mask snagged and pulled off. We both saw it.”
Jason’s artificial face expressed emotion with absolute perfection. Miles understood why he’d never suspected. This was simply technology far beyond any he’d ever experienced. Now the mask expressed shock, then fear.
“Oh. I see. Well, we have a lot to talk about then. I suppose we—”
“No! We have nothing to talk about. We’re getting out of here as soon as we can. I’m dropping you at the first intercity bus stop we come to, and you’re on your own after that. Or is your spaceship nearby? Perhaps you’d rather use that.”
“Aren’t you even a little bit curious about who I am? Don’t you want to know why I’ve spent all this time with you?”
Miles shook his head. The sobs were coming back. The feeling of loss was overwhelming.
Jason seemed to read his mind. “You haven’t lost me, Miles. Everything can be the same as before.”
“Are you serious? I thought I was in love with a man, not a creature.”
Jason sighed. “OK, from this moment on, I swear to you that I will tell you only the truth. We Sirians don’t swear oaths unless we really mean them.”
“Sirian?” said Miles. “That’s what you are?”
They walked slowly back to the cabin as Jason explained who he was and what his assignment had been.
“So the goal was just to break me away from Maria, to leave her without someone to direct her?” asked Miles.
“Right. But events have overrun us now. Aliens Out doesn’t really matter anymore.”
“Why do you say that?”
“There are Cygnian generators all over Africa. They’re starting to sell them in China. They’re building huge factories that will soon obsolete every factory on Earth. It’s all gotten out of control.”
Miles stopped. “Thank God my father bought into that fusion power company!”
“Yes, that was one smart move.”
They reached the cabin door. Miles looked at Jason, said, “So your job is done. Why wouldn’t you just leave? You’ve got no reason to hang around with me.”
Jason took Miles’ hand. “Here’s the thing, Miles. My people have always found humans attractive. Relationships between humans and Sirians are not uncommon. Sometimes the human even knows the truth. We feel emotions as strongly as you do, maybe even more. I may be a fraud in your eyes, but one thing that is true beyond any doubt is that I do love you, deeply, completely, and that if you drop me off at that bus stop, I’ll miss you so much that I’ll wish I were dead. But because I love you so much, I’ll do whatever you want.”
Miles felt himself wavering. Even if he never could get used to the idea of a relationship with an alien, a friendship could be tremendously interesting. And it would soften the sense of loss if Jason was still right there with him. Maybe he could just put the decision off for now.
Miles sat on the couch. “OK, I admit, it would be interesting to get to know you, the real you, I mean. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. And when I look at you, well, I have to say it, my heart still melts. But at the same time I’m creeped out. It’s all just too strange for me.”
Jason’s face lit up with joy. Miles wondered whether it was possible that he really did speak the truth, that Jason did love him. “One step at a time,” said Jason. “But I think that the more you get to know me, the more you’re going to get comfortable with me. We’re a lot alike, you and I. You’ll see.”
Miles shook his head. “A lot alike? It’s hard to imagine... Tell me something: what’s your real name, the one you use where you come from.”
“OK, from now on you’re Inkohatum. Jason is officially dead.”
“Well, wait a minute. That’s OK when it’s just you and me, but otherwise...”
“Right, understand. You’re incognito. I’ll call you Jason when other people are around.”
“Do you remember an old man that rapped on your car window in Rogers Park?” Inkohatum asked. “He said he was having a heart attack?”
“I never told you about that! I’d almost forgotten it ever happened. How could you...” And then Miles understood. “You! Already manipulating me.”
“At that point I was just gathering information. But then I saw that gay magazine in the car. The Men’s Room was the gay bar nearest Maria’s place. It took a while — four visits — until you were finally there.”
“That was an evening I’ll always remember,” said Miles, the sadness returning to his voice.
“It’s the same for me,” said Inkohatum. “I realized that next morning that I didn’t have to play-act, that I wanted to be with you. It was all so natural.”
“Natural?” Miles said, astonished. “That’s like calling Kool Whip natural!”
“It felt right, that’s all I can say. It did.”
“I don’t understand something,” said Miles. “You say you still love me, that your kind are attracted to humans. Are you gay then, like I am?”
Inkohatum’s artificial face contorted with discomfort. He looked away, took two deep breaths, then said, “I promised to be truthful, so... We’re all hermaphrodites. We’re both male and female and usually equally attracted to both human sexes. I was going to put on my female porn star disguise to seduce you until I found out you were gay.”
Miles chuckled, then broke into an extended fit of laughter.
“What’s so funny?”
“What you said — we’re a lot alike. What in heaven’s name could you have meant by that! I’m certainly not a hermaphrodite!”
Inkohatum’s face turned serious. He stood, walked to within an inch of Miles, took both his hands. “I meant that we’re both capable of deep love, of total loyalty, that we find the same things funny, the same things important, the same things ironic. I meant that wherever I am with you feels like home, like the place I want to come back to. I meant that every minute I’m with you I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”
Now Miles understood — he had felt exactly the same about Jason. But with the perfect mask back in place, what he could see in front of him was still the Jason he’d loved. A wave of affection overwhelmed Miles. He wrapped his arms around the creature, no, the man he’d loved, that he still loved. They hugged a very long time, oblivious to the singing birds, the buzzing flies, even the morning sun, its light sliced by the trees, illuminating them through the cabin window like a spotlight on a stage.
Copyright © 2019 by Bill Kowaleski