Welcome to this week’s stories from our writers. We have two stories that were inspired by the prompt: A language class for aliens.
I hope you enjoy!
I enter into trance-state and my mind lifts up out of my body, as easily as words might leave my mouth. I sense the glimmering forms of my companions around me, as they too rise from their bodies. We swirl together in greeting and acknowledgment and encouragement, but swiftly we turn to our mission.
Together we stream up and away, soaring across the stars. Distance is more a suggestion than a fact while in trance-state, and intention counts for more than lightyears. Time, too, feels nebulous in this form, so I cannot tell you how long we move in the blackness of space, stars shining around us, curling and swirling together for company amidst the immensity. Soon enough but not too soon we reach our destination, a small blue planet around a yellow star.
We descend, scattering as we enter into this planet’s influence, as we reach the level of its inhabitants. I quest for the nearest intelligent creature, slip into its mind, and begin my learning.
That first one is hazy because I knew so little, could understand so little. And that first one is special, because it was the first time my mind had met the mind of another not of my people.
I go searching for identity and find many words. Mother. Doctor. Human. Woman. Protestant. American. Daughter. Friend. I will visit many minds, explore many identities, before I understand what each of these words means.
I explore. I visit mind after mind, each one different, each one teaching me something new. Each one adding to the words I understand, the human concepts I gather. I learn the word “human” quickly, delight in having a label for this species I am coming to know. I learn “humain,” “maanav,” and “rén de” too, and I delight in them all. I do not bother trying to categorize words into languages until after I have gained many more of them. I simply slide between minds and soak in what they offer.
I learn simple things easily, things like bird and tree and house and table. I slip into a child by the ocean and learn about sand, waves, ice cream and castles. I slip into an old man sitting by a window and learn about sunsets. I slip into a father caring for young and learn about macaroni, green beans and chocolate.
I grow my store of words until I can describe the world outside with some proficiency, and feel pleased by my advancement.
Other kinds of words are harder, though. Words to describe worlds inside are sometimes brighter and bolder than any other, and sometimes hazy and nebulous and difficult to catch. And they change from mind to mind, so much more than the outside words do.
I visit many minds to learn words like “truth,” “honor,” and “fear.” Slowly I come to match such words to my own people’s understanding, come to tease out the difference between how a human regards “joy” or “pain” and how my own people do.
I spend a long time trying to understand “love.” Humans spend so much time thinking about it, it is obviously greatly important to them. And yet it takes so many shapes as I drift between minds. At first I think it is like what I feel for my bondmate. Then I think it is what I feel for my hatchlings. But it is also like what I feel for my companions on this mission. I think for a time that “love” is a warm feeling between humans, less precisely defined than my own people would have done—but then I slip into a mind that uses “love” to describe a feeling so entwined with pain, with criticism and doubts, that I grow confused again. “Love” seems to be a Big word for humans, a single word that contains multitudes.
Sometimes I think I glimpse one of my companions behind a human’s eye, feel a whisper of thought across the distance between us. But there are so many humans on this teeming planet that these encounters are rare, if not purely imagination.
Sometimes I leave one human and do not go immediately to another. Sometimes when it all becomes too strange or too confusing, I rise up towards the stars again. There I drink in the quiet, the space—and often I meet one or more of my companions there, our minds touching as we share what we have learned, offer each other company on our journey. Mostly I meet my bondmate, when I rise up to the stars, not because we planned it but because our connection draws us together. Our minds meet and mingle with special warmth as we soar together far above the Earth.
We learn and explore and visit mind after mind for a long, long time. The experience is confusing and exciting, and then familiar, and then finally sad. I finally begin to feel it is too much, too long—too hard to learn so much about humans and to share nothing back. To visit, and never be seen or felt or known.
But the Guardians who planned our journey planned well. I am only just beginning to feel that sadness when our allotted time comes to an end, when distant bells call us back at last to our own bodies. We leave the Earth, and together we fly back, so quickly, to our own forms.
I settle back into my body like returning to a beloved nest I have left absent too long, fitting in with only the slightest breath of strangeness, with much more comfort and ease and familiarity. I open my eyes just as the door to my sleeping capsule unlocks and opens.
I stretch, turn to look for my bondmate beside me and smile to again see familiar eyes looking back at me.
Our captain’s voice comes through speakers into the room, into all the rooms where my companions are awakening. The words are in English, a human language, and after all this time that does not even seem strange.
“Our ship has just passed the orbit of the fifth planet, and we’ll be reaching Earth shortly. Please prepare yourselves for first contact.”
I smile again. Time at last to put all these new words to use.
He was going to save her. In spite of herself.
Lenny wasn’t sure how Jill had fallen in with that lunatic fringe. It felt like one day they’d been perfectly happy, and the next they were arguing about her teaching English to a bunch of “aliens”. But not other country types of aliens. No, she meant outer space type aliens. Yeah, ET’s. How Jill could believe some bunch of LARP geeks were really aliens was beyond him. They’d argued about it incessantly, then only two weeks later, Jill was gone. And as she’d left, she’d told him he was a close-minded, self-important idiot.
It was all the fault of those geeks!
He’d almost written her off. Then he realized they must have brainwashed her. That was the only thing that made any sense. And that meant it was up to him to save her.
Over the next two months he grew a mustache and dyed his hair. Then he started following her, trying to figure out where the geek meetings were taking place. He’d dropped nearly twenty pounds with all the walking he’d been doing; more in the past two months than in the past two years. He was sure she wouldn’t realize he was…checking on her.
He’d finally managed to figure out where the weirdos were meeting. Today he would finally sneak in and, if necessary, show her how stupid all of this was. Then she’d thank him, and they could be together again.
Several people were already seated when he stealthily entered the room and slid onto one of the seats in the back. Jill was talking to some Jason Momoa wannabe up at the front of the room and didn’t notice.
Lenny looked around and barely bit back a sneer. What a bunch of losers. None of them looked quite right. Their hair was too long or their clothes too big. A few had even chosen colors that clashed so badly he couldn’t bear to look. Several of the others were wearing sunglasses inside the dim room, like they were trying to look cool. Or maybe they were just trying to block out that shocking pink and orange Hawaiian shirt that – guy? girl? – was wearing.
Jill’s phone beeped and she clapped her hands. “Alright everyone, let’s get started.” She pushed at something in her left ear and grinned. “How was it last week? Did anyone have any successes with speaking English that they’d like to share?”
There was a strange rumble of sound from around the room.
What the hell? They really were freaks! They were chirping and grunting and making low pitched grumbles. And Jill was up there nodding like it all made sense.
“That’s great!” She beamed at them as if they’d said something interesting. “How about any failures? Is there anything we need to work on for next week?”
Again, there was a strange swell of sound around him while Jill nodded as if these geeks were making sense. And he’d had enough.
Lenny leapt to his feet and shouted, “What are you all playing at?” He swung his gaze to the front and met Jill’s startled eyes. “And you, why are you going along with this? You’re too smart to be involved in this craziness.”
A few others climbed to their feet, various expressions from confusion to scowls to alarm aimed his way. A few even looked angry. Well, let them.
One, tall and so thin he was nearly skeletal, pointed a long finger at Lenny and said, in heavily accented English, “Why is this one here? What does it want?”
Jill was glaring, but not at the skinny guy. She was glaring at him, as if he was the problem. “Lenny? What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to save you from all this,” he shouted, trying to make her understand his concern. He waved his hands around the room. The others were all staring at him now. And from the looks on their faces, they weren’t happy with this interruption. Well, too damn bad. He infused as much sincerity as he could into his voice. “I just want you to see how ridiculous this is and to come home with me, where you belong.”
Her eyes narrowed. Uh-oh, he knew that look. “I belong anywhere I want to be,” she spat. For a moment he was sure he could hear her grinding her teeth. She placed her hands on her hips and leaned forward. “And right now, I want to be here.” She glanced around the room, noticing the agitation being displayed. She shook her head, a flash of worry clear in her eyes even across the room. “Lenny, you need to get out of here before you cause—”
Whatever Jill had been about to say was drowned out by an angry roar from the Jason Momoa look-alike. He surged to his feet and stood up straight. And grew. And grew. Several others dove out of the way as chairs were knocked in every direction by his…its…expanding body. Its face lost any semblance of humanity as its clothes were torn apart at the seams.
That was no Jason Momoa. It was some hideous creature, shaped more like a giant octopus than a man. The room filled with that same strange rumble of sound as the vocalizations of the others added to the clatter of furniture. Then a long tentacle whipped out from the creature’s back and ended up less than an inch from Lenny’s nose. The tentacle was tipped by a short, sharp spike which waved back and forth in front of his face.
Lenny stared at it mesmerized, like watching a poisonous snake poised to strike.
Jill was shouting something he couldn’t make out. It certainly wasn’t English. Lenny gulped and broke out in a cold sweat, suddenly sure he was about to die.
By an alien.
Then very, very slowly, that tentacle pulled back, and finally disappeared somewhere into that misshapen body.
Jill sighed loudly in the sudden silence. For a moment she stood there, white and shaking. Then her face tightened in anger. She screamed, “You are such an asshole, Lenny. Just. Get. OUT!”
And Lenny did.