“She sure is ugly!” The orderly said.
She was just standing there like a manequin. The girl was possessed of looks that at first seemed modely and desirable: tall, thin, leggy, curvey, blank expression, short, but very thick tussled hair, pouting mouth, and most striking of all, large, dark, almond-shaped eyes. Then the eye settled in a bit, and started noticing details missed on the first pass: she was too tall, and too thin, her head was a little bit too big, her mouth was a bit too small, her hair appeared to be painted on and her eyes, her unblinking eyes, were far, far, far too large.
“Well, we don’t like to say it like that,” the head nurse said, “But yeah. You noticed faster than most males on the staff. That’s interesting.”
“Well, most guys meet her on their rounds and their immediate reaction is ‘wow, she’s pretty,’ then it kind of hits them that she’s not. It’s like something from a dream, you know? Like when you’re hanging out with your best friend, and they sorta’ change into a rat or something” The nurse said. She sized him up for a moment. “Gay?” she asked.
Arturo sighed. “Si.”
“Closeted?” The nurse - Caroline - asked.
“Of course. Show me a maricon who isn’t?”
“It’s ok,” she said, “I won’t tell anyone. I mean, Grant Hospital don’t have a rule against it or anything, but, you know…some people….”
“Si, yes, I know.”
“Anyway, wanna’ see something trippy?”
“I don’t know, do I?”
“I don’t know. Do you?” Caroline said, grinning. Arturo faked a smile. ‘Yet another straight chick who’s decided she needs to be my big sister. Tedious,’ he thought, but what he said was, “Go for it.”
Caroline pulled a Hershey’s kiss out the pocket of her scrubs, unwrapped it, and held it in her outstretched hand, palm up.
The girl’s head turned like it was on a lazy susan, totally flat, with no random motion at all. Without changing expression. Then she turned and headed towards them, her gait, her pace, her motion all wrong. Arturo realized with a start that her joints were all wrong! Her biceps were much longer than her forearms, and her upper thighs were much longer than her lower legs. It was like watching a sloth walking on its hind legs, but she was fast! She was on them in a second. When her hand snatched the candy away from Caroline it was a blur, but he was sure he saw extra knuckles on the fingers. Then she went back to the center of the room and resumed her passive statue pose.
“Ok, now your turn,” Caroline said.
“Uhm, I don’t think…”
“She’s on your case load, you need to establish a rapport.”
“Ok,” he said reluctantly. “Give me a candy,” but his hand wasn’t where he expected it to be: He’d unconsciously grabbed the door handle in a death grip, almost ready to bolt out of there. Embarrassed, he let go. His knuckles were still white when she dropped the chocolate in it.
Officially her name was “Jane Doe 3278.” She was a ward of the State of Florida, a hard luck case, with no known family. She was a mass of birth defects and/or mutations, evidently, and mentally retarded. After being bounced around from facility to facility, she‘d ended up in the long-term psych ward in the ‘Little Havana‘ section of Miami. She’d been found floating in the wreckage of what was assumed to be a light aircraft in the second month of the Mariel Boatlift, about seven years earlier. Some Cubans passing on a raft had fished her out of the wreck, and carried her along. A few days later, they were rescued by the Coast Guard. Upon questioning, none of the Cubanos had actually seen the plane crash, it had already been in the water when they found it. Given her olive skin and dark hair - or whatever it was - and the fact that she’d shown up with a bunch of Cubans in the middle of a mass exodus of Cubans, it was assumed that she, herself, was Cuban. This was by no means clear, however.
‘Well, duh,’ thought Arturo, ’She’s an alien.’
He told no one, however. If a culture could be as phobic as his, willing to kill people over something as small as a sexual preference he never intended to act on anyway (Arturo was a virgin, and despite his proclivities, a good Catholic boy), what would their phobia do to an alien in their midst? ’I mean, look how scared they are of AIDS…what horrible diseases will they claim she has?’
Actually, what horrible diseases might she have?
He checked the file while Wall of Voodoo’s cover of “Do it Again” played on the radio. Between May 8th, 1980, and July of 1987, there was no record of her being sick, nor was there a record of any staff getting sick from being around her. Ok, safe enough.
He tested his theory:
“Hola” he said. She said nothing. He continued to speak in Spanish, but she neither moved nor acknowledged him, even when he stood in front of her so she couldn’t help but see him. Her eyes were really big, disturbingly so, like the eyes of children in cartoons, or that ugly Mexican velvet art, disproportionately big. He mentally calculated how large the rest of her eyeballs must be inside her skull, and suppressed a shudder. They must be the size of baseballs. Was there even any room in her skull for a brain? Disturbing.
“Yo soy de Cuba. Es usted de Cuba, tambien?” He asked. She didn’t react. “No, you’re not, are you?” He sized her up. “I am. I was 22 when I got thrown out. Came here to the ’States, not particularly wanted, lived in the tent city for a year, living on army rations, didn’t speak a word of English. It got better. It’s not great now, but it’s far better.” She continued to ignore him. Or was she? Maybe this was full attention for her kind? Assuming she actually was an alien, of course. Maybe this was flight or fight? There was no record of her ever doing anything violent, but you never know: today could be the day she snapped.
“We need to come up with a name for you, something better than ’Jane Doe.’” He walked around her, pretending to be thinking, but he’d already had a name in mind when he came in. “You have very pretty eyes,” he lied, “Very big and dark. How about we call you ’Sloey?’ Rhymes with ’Chloe,’ or ’Zoe,’ but both of those seem like fat girl names to me. And you’re kinda’ unique, seems to me you should have a unique name. What do you think?” She ignored him.
“Ok, ’Sloey’ it is then. You like music, Sloey?” Her bed - never used - was directly in front of her. He would have sat on that, but the hospital had strict rules about that sort of thing, so he went over to the wall opposite the door and sat on the floor. He sang her “Walk like an Egyptian.” Her head made it’s creepy lazy susan turn, and her huge eyes stared sightlessly at him.
Work, home, eat, sleep, work, home, eat, sleep, occasionally church, occasionally friends, but his friends wanted to do things with him that would have made them more than friends, and he wasn’t emotionally receptive to that for a whole bunch of reasons best left buried in his memories of the country he’d fled. It was a fairly empty life, but over the next few months, it expanded quite a bit: Work, Home, Eat, Sleep, Sloey, work, home, eat, sleep, Sloey, occasionally church. He still had friends, but he spent less time with them, and more time with the alien girl every day. Caroline and the other staff found this weird at first. Someone had even called human resources and the police to do an investigation, and make sure he wasn’t taking sexual advantage of her - yeah, like that was gonna’ happen - but eventually everyone decided it was on the up-and-up, and just kind of let it slide. He was meticulous about keeping up his other duties, but he spent at least an hour with her every day.
He sang her stupid top-40 songs, and fed her, and bathed her, and tested out the theory - surreptitiously, of course - that she wasn’t blind, but that those big eyes saw different wavelengths. He brought in a blacklight flashlight, and shined it on the wall. Sure enough, her eyes tracked it!
He told her stories. Mostly long, rambling things about life, or recaps of things he’d seen on TV, told as though they happened to him. Then it occurred to him he needed something simpler. He got some children’s picture-books - “A is for Apple” and so on - and painstakingly went over them UV paints, so she could see them. Then he read them to her. He’d figured by this time that she could see a little bit of the visible spectrum, but it was probably vague and indistinct and phantasmagorical to her. His hand would be a black, spectral blot on the page, probably frightening her. Though her expression was as changeless as a china doll, he began to realize she had some emotions in there, and he could sense when she was upset. He painted some gloves as well, and used them to point.
“She has no vocal cords, you know,” Caroline said.
“Yeah, I know,” he said.
“So why are you trying to teach her to talk?”
“I’m not. I’m trying to teach her to read. She doesn’t understand Spanish, as far as we know, she didn’t pick up English from seven years in the cell, maybe if we can teach her to communicate a little, she can pick up sign language. Or maybe even if she can just understand us a little, it’ll improve her quality of life. ‘Don’t touch that, it’s hot’ and that sort of thing.”
“Nope, uh-uh, not gonna’ happen. She’s massively M.R. Have you seen her CATscan?”
“Somebody did a CATscan of a Cuban refugee? Did they even have ‘em back then?”
“No, not back then, but a couple years ago some med school interns did one. I’m not sure why. She’s got massive brain stuff going on. Check it out in records.”
He did. Sure enough, her massive eyes left little room in her skull for a brain, and what there was primarily ended up sandwiched in the back, much lower than in a normal human. Interestingly, the area that roughly corresponded to the Occipital Lobe was much larger than normal, and extended well down her neck. It seemed to combine with the upper part of her spinal cord, which was much thicker and more developed than one would expect, though only part of it showed in the scan.
At roughly that same moment, a SETI station received their first-ever signal from an alien spacecraft. Typically, no one noticed. No one had any real idea what a message from aliens would look like, they just assumed they’d recognize it when they saw it. They were wrong, however, and mistook it for background static. Even if anyone had noticed it, however, even if it had made the news, it likely would have been overshadowed by the unexpected recovery of the terminal AIDS patient in the next room over from Sloey.
His name was Richard Demarest, but he mostly went by the stage name “Big Mama Daddy.” He was a morbidly obese drag queen, until he’d gotten ‘the gay cancer’ and it had ravaged his body. He’d withered away, and then it got into his brain and he became violent. He was in the long-term ward at Grant not because he was expected to last long, but mostly because the rooms were padded, and the orderlies and guards were burly and good at their jobs. He posed no real threat there, though he would if he got loose and tore around a better hospital. Then he started getting better.
The disease disappeared from his body. His wits returned, he was horribly embarrassed for his behavior, his body mass started coming back, but he didn’t get fat again. He seemed locked in at a solid 190 pounds.
Arturo was reading Sloey a meticulously hand-painted version of “The Ugly Duckling,” that he’d made from scratch. Same old story, of course, nothing special, but it seemed apropos. He got to the part about how lonely the ugly duckling felt, being shunned by those around her when…
She spoke! He heard her, clear as day! He was staggered!
“Did you just speak?” he asked.
*Lonely?* she said again. ‘But wait,’ he thought, ‘she doesn’t have the equipment to speak. How can she…?’ He threw open the door, and yelled “Caroline, come here, I need you!” She came presently. “Can you hear this?” he asked, then started to tell Sloey to speak again, but thought the better of it. Instead he just pointed at the picture of the sad duckling.
*Lonely?* she said.
“Did you hear that?” Arturo asked Caroline?
He pointed at the picture. Sloey said it again.
“I don’t hear anything.”
“Ok. I wasn’t sure if I was or not,” Arturo covered. He slapped together a quick lie: “It sounded like something in the wall, like a pipe had broken or something.”
Somewhere deep in space an alien ship came closer to earth, broadcasting all the while so as not to frighten people when they arrived. No one noticed. There was a mission en rout to Mars at the time, but they mistook the signal as radiation from an ancient supernova.
Arturo petitioned the hospital, and then the state, to get Sloey released into his custody, as her primary caregiver. It was surprisingly easy, as the Reagan Administration was ever budget-conscious, and having some gay immigrant dude taking care of her in his apartment was far, far cheaper than giving her a hospital room for the next few decades.
He moved her into his apartment, and began teaching her to read and write, albeit only in blacklight ink. He also taught her how to play the Ukulele. She was surprisingly smart, and a surprisingly fast study. She was, he was pretty sure, just a child, and he was also pretty sure she was emotionally disturbed from her long and basically empty incarceration. Imagine taking a toddler, and dropping them in a kennel with no human interactions, no support, no love, and leaving them like that for seven years! He tried having some of the local kids over to play with her, but her enormous height, subliminally spooky looks, and the freaky way she moved traumatized them. That made matters worse. So much for her socialization.
Still and all, he now got to spend half the day with her. That was a good thing.
“What I don’t get,” he said, “Is why it took you so long to speak to someone. If you’re telepathic?”
*Need learn words. Thought is words.*
*Think so. Si. See picture, but don’t own picture until know word. No talk picture.*
That kind of made sense. He had just always assumed telepathy would be some kind of magical grocking thing, but, no, inasmuch as thought is an internalized vocalization - a person talking to themselves essentially - it made sense. He smiled at how some of her thought/words were in English and some in Spanish.
*What happen now?* she asked.
“I honestly don’t know, mi hija,” he said. “Teach you, love you, make a life for you.”
*People scare me. Me scare people.*
“Doesn’t matter,” he said, “Ugly ducklings, beautiful swan. You’ll grow into something people will find beautiful on some level. Maybe you and me both, who knows?” He tried to give her a hug, or cuddle up with her, but she just stood there in the middle of the floor, impassive, not returning the hug. Whatever her species was, they were not apparently physically demonstrative. They didn’t move unless they had a specific purpose for doing so.
Big Mama Daddy dropped dead of AIDS ten days after Sloey left the hospital. No one could understand it. He was literally fine one day, without a trace of the disease, and in the best health - both mental and physical - of his entire life. Then, suddenly, he was riddled with it, and then about a day after it re-appeared, he was gone. An old man with terminal cancer lived in the apartment below Arturo. There was no Hospice in Florida in those days, but he had family and friends taking care of him, and he wished to expire in his home, rather than a hospital. But he didn’t. He started getting stronger, putting on weight. After a couple weeks of not dying, he went to the nearest hospital for a checkup - which just happened to be Grant - and was pronounced to be in total remission. These events probably would have gone unnoticed, or at least unassociated, were it not for Caroline’s personal physician asking her a lot of gynecological questions.
“Why is this relevant? I had a hysterectomy ten years ago.”
“Well obviously you didn’t.”
“I think I’d remember that.”
“Well, I see no sign of it here,” and he showed her his information. Sure enough: whatever she’d had removed had evidently grown back, and was in perfect working order.
Telephone, Telegraph, Tell-a-priest. Some, it seems, take the seal of the confessional more seriously than others. They are human, after all, and the road to advancement is always appealing. If one can’t dispense miracles one’s own self and become a saint, discovering a new saint is almost as good, and is a fast track to monsignor as well. The word got out.
It would have eventually anyway, as Carol and others were putting the pieces together: It turns out that no one had died in any of the rooms adjacent to Sloey’s in the seven years she’d been in the ward, nor had any of the staff working in any of those rooms gotten sick. She brought this to the attention of the hospital administrator, who started making phone calls. Eventually the calls would attract the attention of the government, but for now the white folk still hadn’t managed to connect the dots. For the time being, the truth - that there was a healer living on South West 17th Street - was spread only among the superstitious and ignorant. The people who haven’t learned to disbelieve what they’re told yet.
First it was people in the neighborhood, then the surrounding area, then there were long lines of Cubanos all waiting to see ‘La chica fea.’ Eventually they just started calling her ‘La Fea.” Then it spread to the Hatians, chanting for ‘La Laide.’ This then became, ‘La Fille Laide.’ Then, as they came to associate her with the voodoo goddess of healing, this changed to ‘La Fille Gran Bwa.’ This was too much for a Catholic boy like himself.
“But what can I do?” he asked her.
*Why this bothers you?* she asked, *Jesus not I. Mary not I. They think Mary am I. This not bother you? Why it bother you they think I someone you not believe in?*
He had to admit she had a point. Still…
“If I let them let them think this is happening because of some evil magical crap, then it makes it look like their beliefs are real. That means I’m helping their…uhm…church gain strength, and hurting my own. I can’t do that.”
*Can’t turn sick away. Jesus say so. Explain to them truth.*
“I can’t do that, either.”
“Because I’m pretty sure you’re not human, and, well, I’m afraid if that got out they’d take you away from me.”
*Not want go away.*
“I don’t that either. So we keep it quiet for now.”
*Voodoo people bring chickens. Chickens tasty. No buy own food. Not all bad, yes?*
He laughed. “Yeah, they’re intended for sacrifice. They’re bringing more than we can eat, but, yeah, I guess we could give ’em to the neighbor kids. I saw some goats, too.” She gave a pleasant, warm mental noise that ran through his whole being, a moment of overwhelming caritas and glee that he realized was her version of laughter. The people within a few hundred feet felt it, too.
“Does it hurt you?” He asked.
“The healings. Does it hurt you? Tire you out? Take anything from you?”
*Easy as breathing,* she said, *It what I born for.*
He didn’t actually need to be in the same room with her to keep an eye on her. Well, an ear, anyway. She was continually psychically in touch with him, as long as he was within about a mile. Recently they’d worked out a trick where she could transmit sounds to him, as well as her own thoughts. He could hear what her supplicants were asking if she chose to send it. There were a lot of supplicants. Hundreds a day, maybe more. They were lined up around the block. Literally.
He was on the apartment pool deck, barbecuing chicken when the process server found him, and had him sign or a big manila envelope, then scampered away.
“Oh, bad luck,” an elderly stranger with an ugly shirt and an uglier New York accent said. Arturo nodded, not knowing quite what to do with the thing.
“Can I take a look at that?” The New Yorker asked.
“I don’t know if I should…”
“Ah, it’s not a problem,” the man said, and whisked it away from him. Rifling through the contents, he summarized, “You’re being sued by the family of someone named ‘Demarest’ for wrongful death. They’re saying you withheld medical services.”
“That’s insane. I didn’t do that. I don’t even know who that is!”
“Chicken smells good. About done?”
“Huh?” Arturo looked. It was actually getting a little black on one side. He’d forgotten what he’d been doing for a moment.
*You ok?” Sloe thought
“Yes, I’m fine, honey,” he said/thought back at her.
“What?” said the elderly man.
“Nothing. Sorry. Distracted. You want some chicken?”
“Yeah, thanks!” He handed Arturo the papers - which instantly got cheap Kraft barbeque sauce on them - and Arturo handed him a quarter of a bird.
“You know, we could take care of that for you,” he said.
“Take care of what?” Arturo asked.
“Legal hassles. Make the case go away.” Arturo motioned for one of the other folks from the apartment to step in and take over the grills. He had three going at once, and most of the pilgrims to see his unofficially adopted alien daughter hadn’t thought to bring food. They were waiting for hours in the hot Florida sun, many with children. He was making sure they got fed.
“Are you a lawyer,” Arturo asked.
“With this accent?” the man laughed, “No, other end of the spectrum, my friend” he said.
“The Mob?” Arturo asked. The old man just smiled.
“One of ‘em. We take a piece of your action here, we give you protection from the cops, the lawyers, and most importantly, anyone else who wants to take a piece of your action, like the family of your dead faggot friend there.”
“Calla la boca!”
“Ok, ok, sorry,” the man said, “Anyway…”
“…And I’m not getting any ‘action’,” Arturo said, “I’m doing this for free.”
“Well there’s your first problem. As your business advisor…”
*Healed sick old lady. Left. Man here now. Not sick. Wants winning lottery number.*
“Give Jimmy the sigh, he’ll get rid of him,” Arturo said/thought.
“What?” said the gangster. Up in the apartment, Sloey made a graceful walking motion with her four-knuckled fingers, and Jimmy, one of the neighbor kids, showed the man to the door.
On the pool deck, the gangster asked what Arturo was talking about. He was about to say ’it doesn’t matter’ when an angry black man ran up and started screaming, “Batard! Ce ne sont pas vos poulets!”
“What? I don‘t speak…”
“Ils sont pour la deesse!” He flew into a rage and kicked over the grills. One of them fell into the pool with a loud cloud of steam, the others clanged loudly on the concrete, scattering hot charcoals everywhere as people skittered out of the way. Arturo sighed.
“Aw, that’s a shame about the chicken,” the mafia guy said, eating a piece from his paper plate, “It really was good, too.”
“I don’t suppose you could do anything about stuff like that?” Arturo said, indicating the angry Hatian man who was kicking a hole through the rotting plywood fence.
“Voodoo stuff? Nah. Those guys are crazy. We won’t touch ‘em, but we can figure some way to turn ‘em away.”
“Look…what’s your name?”
“Does it matter?”
“Ok, look, man, I’m going to tell you what I told the Cuban Mafia last week…”
“’Cuban Mafia,’” the old man scoffed, “Bush leagues. We’re the real thing, Arturo. You’re never gonna’ get a better deal than this. You get to keep the freak - “
“Ella no es un monstruo!”
“ - you get to keep a lot of the money, you get protection, it’s a good deal. I don’t speak Spanish, by the way, so you’d best not be calling me names. I got friends listening in. They’ll tell me if you are.”
“Wait a minute: How did you know Demarest was gay? It wouldn’t have said that in the summons.”
“Saw it written on a bathroom wall.”
“You set this up, didn’t you?”
“Just think it over. Thanks for the chicken.” He set down his paper plate and plastic fork, and snapped his fingers, but they were too greasy. He wiped them on the manila envelope, then tried again. As if on cue -for it was a cue - two uniformed police men came forward. The old guy handed Arturo his card. “Call me if you need anything,” he said and walked off.
“Are you Arturo Navarro?” one of the cops asked.
“We’ve been receiving complaints about how this little faith healing show of yours has been blocking traffic. The neighbors are talking about people keeping them up all night, and people taking dumps in their yards.” He was black and had a Jamaican accent.
“We’re shutting you down,” the other cop said.
Three things were never far beneath the surface in Miami in the late ’80s: Sex, Drugs, and Violence. As soon as the security detail showed with barricades, and started ushering people away, the fighting started. This quickly expanded to gunfire, since one out of five people below the poverty line were packing heat at any given time. The patrolmen fell back, Arturo realized that the ’violence’ staple of city life was what they had been counting on all along. It too such a tiny push to start a riot, and the SWAT teams rolled in way too quickly, as if they’d been waiting a block away - which in fact they had - for an excuse to come in. Was the whole department on the mob’s take? Maybe. Corruption was a fact of life in the city.
In any event, undergirding the three pillars of city life was good old fashioned Floridian incompetence. The riot grew far larger, far quicker than anyone goading it had realized. The SWAT teams were clearly not taking it seriously when they rolled in. A squad hopped out of the back of an armored van, all of them loudly humming the theme from the old SWAT TV show with Robert Urich. As they moved towards Arturo’s apartment building, a LAWS rocket ripped from the shrubs, and sailed into the open door of the van. The whole thing exploded. The SWAT team - knocked flat by the concussion of the blast - stopped humming. The crowd was on them in a moment, and the didn’t survive long. Miami was the major port of exit in the illegal weapons trade with Latin America in those days. There were plenty of rockets and grenade launchers and flame throwers on hand, should the need arise.
“Coming up now, don’t be scared.”
“No, no, don’t be scared. I’m almost there.”
*Scared.* for a block or two in every direction, everyone felt their bowels turn to water. With the cops driven back, the riot outside worsened, poor Cubans and Hatians turning on each other for control of the building and the healer, both sides turning on any other lesser groups that tried to gain access . Arturo ran in to his apartment, and hugged Sloey.
“It’s ok,” he said, “there, there, it’s ok. I’m here now. I’ll keep you safe.” He sang her “Crazy” by Icehouse not because it was even remotely appropriate, but because it was the only song he could think of at that moment that he knew all the words to, and she needed to hear him sing something innocuous.
*Safe* she thought, said, *Still nervous.* Throughout the neighborhood, everyone’s bowels calmed down, but they were all still on edge.
“It’s ok, honey,” he said as he looked out the window, but what he actually thought was ‘we are great and mightily screwed.’
They moved into the central hallway, since it didn’t have any windows to get shot out, and all the apartments were quickly littered with broken glass. He sang stupid songs to her, and read her little nursery stories. She calmed down. There were still people in the building, of course. Plenty of food, plenty of water, and being Miami, plenty of rum. The city cut the power, though, so it got hot fairly quickly. They improvised another grill and started barbecuing more chicken, though, and that raised everyone’s spirits again. As Sloey went to sleep that night, he decided to chance hitting the can.
There were three CIA helicopters, and then, suddenly, there were two. There was, however, one lest LAWS rocket in the crowd after that. Gunfire erupted, and the street looked like a scene from a World War II movie. The flaming wreck of the stricken copter smashed down on the building across the street, collapsing it, and setting it instantly ablaze. Rioters fled the chaost, as one of the other two ‘Copters took up a better position, and started opening fire on the crowd with miniguns.
*What that?* she thought, startling awake from the noise.
“Dunno! Coming!” he yelled, jumped up from the toilet, and fought to pull his pants up without even thinking of wiping first.
Most of the rioters ran like crazy from the hail of death, but a lot of them realized there was nowhere to go, and held their ground. They fired on the thing. Small caliber bullets didn’t do much against its armor or glass, but there were some heavier rifles, and while one or two wasp stings are merely annoying, a few hundred can kill. The Helicopter pulled back while the third one landed on the roof of Arturo’s building. Black-suited troops, who were taking the situation far more seriously than the local cops had, poured out, and stormed down the fire escapes. They were on her in no time.
*Men here!* she thought/shouted. Arturo again felt his bowels turn to water. She was scared and projecting her fear. Justifiably so. As he went through the door, he had it kicked back in his face. He flew back, tripping ass-over-teakettle over the toilet, and fell in a painful slump on the floor against the wall. The door opened, and a man was there with an M-16 pointed at him.
“Stay down sir,” the man said. Arturo didn’t know what to do.
*Men taking me!* They dragged her down the hall.
“Fight back!” he shouted/thought.
“Be quiet, sir,” the CIA goon said sternly.
In the hall, Sloey flailed around, her long, sloth-like arms surprisingly fast, surprisingly strong. She kicked, she flailed, she bit, it wasn’t a fight, it wasn’t a martial art, she was simply a terrified child having a tantrum. It was surprisingly effective, though, and more than a few of the goons went down, thrown off balance by the unpredictable ferocity of her attack, and the waves of fear rolling off her, and unexpectedly inundating their own minds.
Finally, one of them simply ran down the hall at full speed and tackled her from behind. Easy to do as she was all-but-blind anyway. She went down, dazed, semi coherent. For a block in every direction, everyone - even the goons - saw stars and gasped, as though they’d been kicked in the face. They were trained to take punishment and keep on going, though, and Sloey wasn’t. She succumbed. They dragged her unconscious form up the stairs to the ‘Copter on the roof.
Tears streamed down his face, he was panicked, hurt, in pain, confused, the only thing he cared about in the world being ripped away from him. “Sloey, wake up!” He screamed.
“Last warning, sir. Stay down and shut up, or I shoot!” The goon sounded stern, but looked unsettled. He was leaning on the doorjamb like he needed it. ‘Could I maybe take him?’ Arturo thought.
*Papa,* she said/thought, *On roof. Help. Taking me.* She was beyond terrified, she was on the edge of hysteria.
Arturo noticed the goon in the doorway was peeing himself, and then he noticed absently that he’d done so as well. He tensed. He had to go for it. He gripped the shower frame, ready to spring to his feet. Would he make it? He wasn’t a fit man in his prime, and they had the drop on him. Still: He loved her, and he had to. He had to. He couldn’t live if he didn’t.
He tried to get up. The goon took a shot, missed, looked confused - there really was no way he could have, but his hands were shaking and he felt sick and couldn’t figure out why - so he lined up another shot.
On the ’Copter, one of the officers in charge said, “Should we recover Navarro, or just terminate him?” Sloey heard him, and broadcast it to Arturo, and he knew beyond any doubt that he was going to die. The thought of losing the only person who loved her pushed her over the edge into catatonia. In the bathroom two floors down, the goon lined up the shot directly on Arturo’s head, and pulled the trigger. Again he missed the shot, but only because he passed out before the impulses made it from his brain to his fingers. Ironically, the other officer had been about to say, “No, now that we’ve achieved the primary objective, we need to take him into custody as well,” but he didn’t manage to get that out before he passed out.
Everyone on the ‘copter on the roof passed out, too. In the other copter, a few hundred feet up, the crew passed out as well. It spiraled out of control, and hit a parking garage two blocks over, exploding. Everyone in the building passed out. Every one of the rioters outside were down as well. In fact, everyone from the near side of Brickel all the way up into the eastern side of Grapeland Heights, and from Allapattah down to Shenandoah were unconscious.
Everyone except Arturo.
Though still awake, he felt like crap. He made his way unsteadily to the roof, and found her. She didn’t seem hurt, though he was pretty sure she was unconscious. It was hard to be sureHe carried her like a pieta, which was no easy feat as she was taller than him, and nearly as heavy. Then he banged her head and feet on the edges of the narrow stairwell, realized dignity wasn’t going to work here, and slung her over his shoulder like a sack of laundry.
Should he try to wake her up? He decided against it. For all he knew, if she calmed down the madness would start again. He laid her on a water stained mattress in the hall, then went into the glass-strewn ruin of his apartment, cleaned up with wet-wipes, and changed clothes. He packed a suitcase full of clothes for the both of them, and another with food. Then he went through the wallets of everyone in the building, and took as much money as he could find. They could track him by credit card, but cash is anonymous. All this took an hour, during which time she was still basically out of it, but twitching a bit.
With her slung over his shoulder, and awkwardly dragging his luggage, he made his way to his car. It had a boot on the wheel, and unconscious guards. He laughed, then looked around for another car. There were several police vehicles with their engines still running, so he took the one that looked least banged up. Initially he headed off towards the glades on Southwest 8th street - well, roads paralleling it, anyway - but he realized that was what the authorities would probably expect. On a crazy whim, he whipped around and started heading for the Venetian Causeway, far to the east.
It was slow going. It was night, and the power was out through the riot areas. There were cars blocking the roads, and bodies - merely unconscious, he hoped - laying everywhere. It was pitch black, overcast, with no moon or stars, and when there was any light at all, it was the eerie sideways glow of small fires here and there. He needed to go painstakingly slow to make sure he didn’t run anyone over, and he had to stop several times to move people out of the way.
Presently he made it to a part of the city that still had power, but the going was still slow for the same reason: Bodies and cars everywhere, some fires, at least small planes had crashed. Some of the cars had hit each other head on when their drivers had gone dark. There were a lot of dead people here. He was not going to tell her about this. By the time he got to a point where he could see people walking around, he was on the edge of Lummus park, and his tank was on “E.” He pulled into a gas station, topped it off, and left a pile of stolen money on the counter. Then, seeing a Wendy’s across the street, and feeling in a ‘what the hell’ kind of mood, he went in and poured himself a Frostie. He left someone else’s money for that, as well. Back at the car, he spooned it onto Sloey’s disproportionately tiny doll mouth. She ate it automatically.
In the Omni area, traffic was light - it was late at night, after all - but there were lots of people staggering around. Nobody appeared to have lost consciousness here, but whatever had happened had definitely taken a bite out of them. He’d expected to bluff his way through by being in a cop car, but as it happened, he didn’t need to. Everyone just lurched around like zombies, nobody contested him. He drove out to the Venetian islands, which are full of waterfront neighborhoods with docks and nice boats.
He stole one, and headed out past South Beach into the Atlantic. He’d gotten away. Beyond that, he had no real plan.
The aliens found him a few days after that. Sloey had already woken up by the, and quickly went back to more-or-less normal. He watched the news from Miami, which was fairly grim. The government was trying to pass the incident off as a mere riot, and judging from Dan Rather and the national news, most folks outside of Florida seemed to buy it. Within the city, though, everyone knew something terrible and different had happened, but no one knew quite what it was. The CIA blamed the destruction in Little Havana on pilot error, when three ‘Copters on an IFR training flight had slammed into the ground. This in no way matched the physical evidence, but they’re the CIA. They have experience making problems of that sort go away. The death toll was pretty high, everyone was panicked, and the conspiracy theorists were having a field day with it. On every channel, he saw his own face several times a day, listed as ‘most wanted.’ His entirely fictitious crime was listed as ‘Inciting A Riot.’
The alien ship looked something like a soap dish, though much, much larger. He was trying to make it to Bermuda when they showed up. They froze several square miles of the ocean surrounding his boat, and landed on it. They were all like Sloey, but much larger. They were wearing ludicrously oversized sunglasses. After some initial confusion, they gave her a pair of glasses and she put them on.
*Oh, this is much nicer!* she said, *Suddenly I can see stuff!*
Several of them touched her neck. Sparks literally flew, and then suddenly new voices were in his head.
*Thank you for saving her* the one in charge said.
“You’re welcome,” Arturo said, then broke down crying for no reason he could really understand. Sloey patted his head while the racking sobs came, and that just made it worse, for she’d never given him any kind of affection like that before, not even a handshake. Presently, spent, he just stared at them for a bit.
“You did some kind of Vulcan mind meld thing? Learned English from her memories?”
*Yes. No time to do it the polite way.*
“So who are you people?”
*We have no words for that.* A flash of images and feelings besotted his mind. It was too much, then it toned down, and all he felt was a kind of gratitude and relief.
“you’re welcome,” he said again. “So here’s my guess: She’s some kind of lost alien princess that crashed here, and you’re the rescue team?”
*We do not know what a ‘princess’ is, and we do not know the exact circumstances ourselves, but much of it is much as you suspect.*
“Explain? By the way, check this out: If Sloey is any indicator, you guys are gonna’ love this.” He handed out Hershey’s kisses from the bag he’d found in the galley.
*There was a war. A very bad war. Our side was losing. In desperation, we sent out….we do not have a word….* More incomprehensible images filled Arturo’s mind.
“Call ‘em ‘Healers’” he offered.
*Healers, then. Yes. Our species is somewhat specialized. You have insects on your world that live in hives?*
“Yes. Ants, Bees, et cetera.”
*Do they share a mind?*
“I don’t know. No idea. Sometimes it seems like they do.*
*Well, unlike your Et Cetera, we do not share a mind. We are specialized for certain functions, some of us are breeders, some of us are soldiers, some of us are drones, some of us are healers. They function as the immune system for our civilization. Without them, our people will die out.* There was a sense of genuine dread underlying his words. Arturo weighed that.
“She’s the last one?”
*Yes. Several hundred were sent out, she alone has survived.*
“And it took you seven - almost eight - years to get around to rescuing her?”
*Interstellar travel is very difficult, and is controlled by the three-legged dogs. We had to make arrangements with them before we were allowed to do so, and they are a very sanctimonious species. Hard to deal with.”
Arturo had no idea what to make of that, so he let it slide.
*This stuff is delicious! What’s it called?*
*We would be willing to trade for chocolate. Would your people be open for such an arrangement?*
“Probably not a good idea just now. Our people just gutted a major city to get at her. I doubt you could trust us.”
In the end, she had to go with them. There was simply no choice. She cried - in her way - but the stakes were too high. She wanted to stay, but Arturo wouldn’t let her. He tried to explain it to her in a way she could understand, but then he realized he was just unconsciously approximating Bogart’s speech from the end of ‘Casablanca’, so he simply chopped out the lovey-dovey stuff on the fly, and plagiarized the whole thing. She didn’t understand it, much, but he figured her elders would, and they’d explain it to her when she was older. She was, in fact, very young. Probably only a year old when her ship crashed. Nobody had any idea how it crashed. Even among aliens, screw-ups happened it seemed.
*He go with us?*
*No, Esteemed Little One, he would not be able to live on our world.”
*The wavelengths of light from our sun would blind him, and give him cancers and kill him.*
“That’s fine, Sloey, really it is. Really it is. This is the moment we’ve prayed for,” Arturo said. “You’re not the ugly duckling anymore, you’re the beautiful swan. These people need you and love you, and will help you become everything you need to be. All I can offer you is poverty and gunfights. Probably a lot of gunfights from here on out.”
*Not want to go.*
“Yeah, but I want you to.”
And so they left.
The aliens felt indebted to him, and offered him anything in their power, though being a nearly-extinct species, ‘their power’ didn’t entail much. He asked if he could hitch a ride to Australia, where he was fairly certain no one would ever think to look for him. Once he explained what an ‘Australia’ was, they were happy to oblige. They dropped him - and the boat, and the frozen several miles of ocean - off the coast of Perth, and then they left. He could hear her crying in his head for several days as he waited for the ice to melt, then she was apparently out of range, and he never heard from her again.
He took the boat ashore under cover of darkness, giggling to himself, “This is the second time I’ve done this,” he said to no one in particular. “Maybe this time I’ll get it right.” He burned the boat, found a road, thumbed a lift to the next town, and just kept going. Eventually he found a way to purchase some fake ID, and that was the last anyone ever officially saw of the poor, sad-eyed little gay man who saved the world, though it wasn’t his own.
Meanwhile, millions of miles away in space, the alien ship streaked homeward.
*We are most fortunate,* The One In Charge thought, *If that man had not saved our Healer, we would be extinct in a generation.*
*True* said The Scientist. He stole a look at Sloey, and shuddered, *It’s just…*
*Just what?* The One In Charge asked.
*She sure is ugly, though.”
Copyright 2012, Republibot 3.0