Time Cube

“This is a wonderful garden,” Khima said, scanning the snowcapped mountains across the valley. “What do you call it?”

“Wyoming,” said the other man from his open-air desk on the riverbank. “My father had a place here.”

Dark complexioned Khima had short black hair and wore a cream-colored robe and a low, cylindrical, green cap. The man to whom he spoke was lighter complexioned. He had short white hair and wore a lightning-white tunic. Both men looked about thirty, athletic, and in excellent health.

8560252739_e00f04bdf4_h-700x467“Wy – O – Ming,” Khima murmured, savoring the sound. His eyes followed the water splashing happily over the rocks and the line of pine trees climbing the mountain slope. Grazing mule deer raised their heads at the sound of an eagle screeching then buried them back in the tall grass.

“Have you chosen your garden?” asked the lighter man.

“An island in the Sudd wetlands, the place my father used to take me fishing.”

The lighter man gestured left and a wooden armchair appeared. “Please have a seat. I’ve been looking over your time cube.”

“It’s rather slim,” Khima said, sitting. “I was only six when I died.”

“Time cubes have no required size,” the man said, holding Khima’s wafer-thin cube between his fingers. “This has all the events in your life, all the decisions, all the hopes, all the disappointments.” He set the cube in a box with other cubes at the side of his desk. “What do you remember?”

“Besides fishing, my fondest memories are trading in the bazaar with my mother and taking classes at the mission.” Khima’s smile faded to a frown. “My worst was dying. Not death itself, that came quickly, but leaving my family.” The lighter man waved for him to continue.

“My mother and I were visiting her sister outside Mangalla. My father didn’t go with us. He had to stay home and protect the cattle from Murle bandits. That day the Murle raided Mangalla. I was killed fetching water from the well.”

The lighter man nodded. “Welcome to Ever-endeavor and welcome to Time Cube Management.” He pulled the box of cubes over in front of Khima. “We start by training new employees with time cubes from their own life.”

“These are all mine?” Khima asked, looking over the various cubes.

“What was and what might have been,” the man said. “The very thinnest ones were possibilities that never happened because you survived childbirth and recovered from pneumonia. The thicker ones pick up with possible futures if that stray bullet had not struck you.”

He pointed to the tallest time cube. “In this one you live to old age, become an airline pilot, and raise a large family in a prosperous Juba community. As an apprentice manager, you are authorized to visit any point on any time cube, past, present, or future—yours and those you are managing.”

“But nothing will change?” Khima said.

“We can influence choices but not their consequences. There are no guarantees. Even well intended and informed choices may end badly. But knowing what a time cube holds helps us advise those we manage.”

Khima pointed to a dozen brightly colored cubes in a separate section of the box. “Are these mine, too?”

“No, those come from others on your behalf—mostly hopes and dreams.”

Khima turned a fluorescent green cube in his hand. “A dream?” he asked.

The man smiled. “That one is a prayer. When you told your father you wished one day to become a pilot, he prayed it would happen. If you had lived, that prayer may have helped us to guide you. All of these,” he waved his hand over the bright cubes, “exist now only as beautiful lost memories.”

Khima stroked the colorful time cubes with his open hand. “Surely all dreams are not lost. You’ve had successes?”

“Oh, many. And requests come from all over,” said the man in the lightning-white tunic. “Jacob Marley, a man who was already here in Ever-endeavor, asked to go back to warn his old business partner. We gave him permission and sent along three managers with time cubes from his partner’s past, present, and future. That turned out very well.

The light man raised a finger. “Another time, an apprentice manager like yourself became upset that a good man in his charge had lost his way and was contemplating suicide. He gave George Bailey access to time cubes for possible pasts and presents. George came to appreciate that his life had meaning and did just fine after that.

The light man shrugged. “But most of our advice goes unheeded. Everyone who arrives at Ever-endeavor, which everyone must, confronts the choices they made in life and the consequences—for themselves and for others. All the joy and all the pain are here in the time cubes, without deceptions, without masks, no matter how much people hid behind them in life.”

Khima winced. “That could be hell.”

“That is hell. Hell is the pain one inflicted on oneself and on others,” said the light man. “The living can always correct their path, but once here, if they’ve never confronted their shadows, the pain merges permanently to become part of their time cube.”

“Time Cube Managers have a tough job,” Khima said.

“If you find it easier, you can work from your garden and transfer the time cubes there. Where would you like to begin: politicians, businessmen, schoolteachers, priests, drug dealers? You see we have many opportunities.” The man in electric-white pointed, and rows of filing cabinets appeared in columns and lines extending out to the Wyoming horizon.

Dating on Callisto

Previous stories in this series: And To All A Good Night ; Callisto Confidential ;  Who’s Out There?

The invitation said the cabriolet would wait five minutes. Carly jumped into her moon suit. She said, “Stay,” to Heathcliff then dashed into the airlock and stopped. Just inside the pressure door stood a metal-frame wood-slatted bench.

She sealed the inner airlock door, depressurized the chamber, and sat on the bench. It backed immediately out through the airlock without the door opening. A near invisible bubble surrounded her and the bench, and separated from the wall of the Command Center bunker. The floating bench stabilized and rotated 180 degrees as the bubble glided away mere inches above the moon’s surface. Oxygen, air pressure, and temperature were benign Earth standard.

Callisto JupiterCarly willed calm, but her senses screamed on panic alert. Leaning back against the bench, she tried to enjoy the ride. The bubble made straight for the object she and Heathcliff had discovered, cresting and descending the ragged crater rim rather than taking the level path. Carly wondered as she scanned Jupiter in the open black sky; how might this look without her helmet?

Ahead Carly saw the smooth chalky protrusion of the metal blister on Callisto’s granular white surface. The bubble kissed the wall of the blister and pushed forward as the wall opened slowly like a waking eyelid. Her bench slid into a hall of closed doors. The wall sealed, and the bubble vanished.

Oxygen, air pressure, and temperature measured acceptable. Carly removed her helmet. Foot stamping told her the gravity remained one eighth that of Earth.

She counted thirty-six closed wooden doors, each with a place name. Most were familiar to her, but Kailash, Aksai Chin, Ladakh, and Tregrosse were not. Only the Virginia door was unlocked and open, deliberately she discovered, finding a hand-written note inviting her to select a dress. Hmm, the dressing room mentioned in the invitation.

All the dresses were fashionable, colorful, and her correct size with shoes to match. Carly laughed. She had no makeup or any way to fix her hair. Cheek pinching and finger combing would have to do. She selected a red satin dress with small black flowers, a scooped neck, and three-quarter sleeves, and low black heels.

A six-panel door with a brass handle opened into a vaulted, sun-lit room. High-stacked windows overlooked a tree-lined valley. She took a breath, held the brass rails on both sides, and stepped out.

She felt the weight increase instantly and locked her arms on the bars like a paraplegic re-learning to walk. Her body swayed, searching for a center of balance.

“Welcome, Miss Shellion,” an accented voice said. She looked up at a dark complexioned man in a white turban, short blue vest, and loose red pants tucked into high boots.

“Please,” he said and extended his arm.

“I just need a moment,” she said, taking his arm and trying a few steps.

“Raja Dakkar waits for you on the terrace.”

“Roger Dakkar?”

“Yes, shall I bring your martini?”

“That would be lovely.” She shifted her hold from the man’s arm to the doorframe and the rail leading out to the terrace.

A tall formally dressed gentleman rushed to her side and helped her to a low seat along the terrace wall.

“Thank you,” Carly said, her legs shivering. The man’s face was dark, his hair raven and brushed back into a mane. He was lean, athletic, and angularly handsome. His obsidian eyes glistened reassuring confidence.

“Mr. Dakkar?”

“Yes, Miss Shellion. It was so good of you to accept my invitation.”

Carly stroked the edge of her chin and found herself lost for words. Still shaking, she took in the Earth-like mountain valley around her, the gentle breeze, and the scent of a forest in summer. The turbaned man brought a tray of martinis, raw oysters, and biscuits. She lifted her glass to Dakkar, he lifted his, and they sipped.

Perfect taste, perfect chill. She looked across the stone terrace wall, up to the tree-lined horizon then down to the valley floor. Every detail perfect.

“I suppose proper etiquette requires we begin with polite banter,” Carly said, finding her voice, “but at the risk of being curt, how can this be? This space inside Jupiter’s moon, your wall-traversing cabriolet moon-walker, this gravity, these fine amenities,” she raised her glass, “thank you very much, this virtual scenery? Are you human? In what century are we?”

Dakkar’s somber expression dissolved into charming smile lines. “I’m quite human, and we’re still working on time travel.” He took a savoring pull on his martini. “I’m afraid that to understand all you’ve seen might require a great deal of unlearning. Physics and philosophy are heavy dinner topics. Might we wait until later, after another drink?” He touched the rim of his martini glass, and the turbaned servant replaced it with a fresh one. Carly waved that hers was fine.

“My name is Roger Dakkar. I am an entrepreneur. I’m here because I have major business concerns on Callisto.”

“Did I hear your servant refer to you as Raja?”

“Rachit worked on my family’s estate in India,” Dakkar said, sliding an oyster from a chilled shell onto a cracker which he handed to Carly. “Do try this. I confess I checked your food preferences before sending you the invitation.”

“You know my food preferences, too?” Carly scowled and ran her hand along the line of her chin. “I’m at a bit of a disadvantage here.”

“I know this was sudden, but I thought explanations would be easier after your visit. Go ahead. Ask me what you will.”

“What is this place? How can it be so … so Earth-like?”

“Because this is Earth.” Dakkar waited for her next question.

“I see,” Carly said and pointed both index fingers. “So you don’t have a time machine, but you do have a teleporter.”

“Not a teleporter, but yes, our Myseko gate operates like a teleporter.”

“Where did you get it?”

“Viktor Myseko is on my discovery team. We discover what is already created. We believe that if one looks for it, the path of discovery is clear. All math and science link to it. Edison and Einstein both talked about following existing paths. Needing to see oneself, one’s institution, or one’s government as the ultimate creator is a great stumbling block.” Dakkar opened his hands and gazed upward. “What you see here is low hanging fruit generously provided. Reach out, and the products present themselves.” He looked into Carly’s wide expression. “Shall we eat?”

Rachit cleared the martinis and oysters and brought the first course of young greens, pecans, sheep’s milk cheese, and tomatoes. Crayfish chowder and seared foie gras followed then the main course of braised Strauss duck.

Carly found out that Roger Dakkar was twenty-nine. His father was Indian and his mother an American from Cincinnati. He had dropped out of Ohio State University and founded a successful software company. He became fabulously wealthy and run afoul of the US government when he refused to reveal his coding techniques. Labeled dangerous and greedy, he escaped the country before his assets could be seized and was joined by a host of similar outcasts.

“Who is John Galt?” Carly teased.

Dakkar laughed. “I believe Ayn Rand had my grandfather in mind when she wrote Atlas Shrugged. They were more than friends for years.”

The dessert was Cherries Jubilee served over vanilla bean ice cream with splinters of dark chocolate on the side.

“Could I—” Carly started to ask for tea as a cup was set beside her and a pot of tea poured. She studied it, lifted it to her nose, and shook her head. “White Bai Hao Yinzhen tea. Mr. Dakkar, you do amaze me.”

“Thank you, Miss Shellion. That was my intent.” He gave a head bow.

“You said your business brought you to Callisto. What business might that be?” Carly asked and took a bite of her ice cream and cherries.

“I hold the interstellar charter to harvest Mok on Callisto,” Dakkar said.

Jack

Six-year-old Cory tucked her flannel nightgown tight around her bare legs. The old farmhouse was cold. Cory sat on the top step staring down the dark stairway. She listened for any creak of the pine boards that would tell her that her mother was coming. A naked light bulb with a drawstring rocked back and forth in the draft and cast barred shadows of the stair rails along the cracked plaster walls. She licked her lips.

“Mommy, when are you coming up?” she called softly. The bare walls swallowed the sound of her voice.

“Get into bed, Cory,” her mother said. “I’ll be up as soon as I get these pies in the oven.”

Cory didn’t want to go into her bedroom alone. Bad things would get her. That’s what Billy Farkin had said on the playground. Bad things like little girls. Tonight they’ll come for you, Cory. It’s Halloween night. They’ll come for sure. He’d hissed when he said it. She looked back at the dark doorway to her bedroom. A full moon shining through the window silhouetted a leafless tree, casting ghosts of boney branches across her bed cover.

Why was Billy mean to her? She remembered him pulling her swing seat away then squatting in the dirt hollow beneath the swing. Bad things happen on Halloween. Oh yes, they do … and bad things happen to little girls. He’d rubbed his nose on his wrist then pointed that finger straight at her. And they’ll be coming for you, tonight. He’d squinted his piggy eyes and flexed his fingers like claws as if to grab her.

“Mommy, come tuck me in!” Cory shouted, this time hearing her voice echo. No reply came. She wished her daddy was there, but she knew he was at the garage trying to get the car fixed. She wiped her wet cheek and blinked away tears.

Tonight bad things will get little girls.

CREAK, THUMP, she heard something in her bedroom. Cory snapped her head around and pulled her heels close beneath her to jump. A shadow moved. She looked harder. The twisting light bulb lit a corner of her bed. The dust ruffle waved. Behind her bed, a single candle flickered soft and golden from the jack-o’-lantern her daddy had set on the steamer trunk.

“Mommy! Come tuck me in!” Again, there was no answer. Cory stood and edged toward the doorway.

Tonight, Cory . . . bad things will come.

Cory leaned into the dark bedroom, careful to keep her feet in the triangular patch of light beside the door. The wind whistled. CREAK, THUMP, a frosty gust slapped one of the tree’s skeletal branches against the loose-fit single-pane window. SCRATCH, SCRATCH, sharp branch sticks like tiny claws scraped the glass, sending shivers up Cory’s neck.

They’re trying to get in . . . the bad things are coming.

“Cory, go to bed,” her mother called. Cory ran back to the top of the stairs.

“Grandma wants to make pies for Mrs. Jones, too, and daddy’s still in town, so don’t wait up. Crawl into bed. I’ll be up as soon as I roll out the extra pie dough.” Mommy doesn’t know about the bad things, Cory thought, hearing no fear in her mother’s voice.

“Mommy! I’m scared. Billy said . . .”

“CORY! Get into bed. If you’re scared—talk to Jack.” Her voice trailed off to murmurs with grandmother in the kitchen.

Cory tiptoed back to the light triangle in the doorway. The jack-o’-lantern’s candle flickered orange shadows and wafted smells of hot wax and pumpkin. Cory kneeled and looked under the bed. The dust ruffle swayed like an unseen monster, breathing and waiting.

Bad things are there, watching for little feet to come close.

“JACK!” Cory whispered loudly. “Are your there?”

“I’m here, Cory!” The jack-o’-lantern’s flame danced. “Come to bed. I’ll watch for you.”

“Jack, you better help me.”

Cory pulled herself upright, widened her eyes, and took a deep breath. The jack-o’-lantern flared a bright smile that shifted the moon shadows. Cory bolted forward, jumped, and grabbed the smooth comforter. Feet, she thought, feeling the dust ruffle brush her ankles. She curled her legs up behind her before any swift-closing claws could catch them. The comforter pulled loose and began sliding. Cory felt herself slip. Exhaling hard and pulling, she wriggled her way up.

The candle sparked. “Good work, Pumpkin! You made it!”

“Ha! Jack!” Cory turned the edge of the bedcovers back then rolled and squeezed her legs between the cool tight sheets. She pulled her nightie close about her, tucked the covers so nothing could creep under, then propped her head with the pillow.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
“Don’t call me Pumpkin, Jack.”

“Don’t call me Pumpkin, Jack,” she said with a sigh. “I’m a little girl. You’re the pumpkin.” She pointed a bent finger at Jack’s dancing eyes. “I know you are, because I went with Daddy to get you from the pumpkin patch. You were a big orange pumpkin on a curly vine.” She rocked her head as she spoke. “We brought you to the house, and Daddy gave you that big smiley face—just like I told him to.”

“Yes! He did, Cory.” Jack’s candle glowed. “And he put me right here at the foot of your bed to keep the bad things away.”

“Bad things like little girls,” Cory whispered. “That’s what Billy Farkin said.” She looked at Jack beaming beyond the foot of her bed. “How can you help me, Jack? You are little like me—and monsters are big,” Cory swept her arms wide, “this big.”

“Because I’m magic.” Jack’s flame snapped bright.

“Magic? How?”

“Your daddy put magic in me. Remember when he carved my face? He loved his little girl with every stroke. Love is magic.”

“YES!” Cory sat up, raised her arms, and put her hands on top of her head. “And Daddy was laughing, and he said when he was away, Jack would watch over me.’”

“Yes, your daddy was laughing … laughing is magic too, Cory.” Jack’s flame twinkled. “And it doesn’t matter how little you are, not when you have loving and laughing magic.”

A new tear glinted in Cory’s eye. “I wish my Daddy was here. But, I’m real glad he made you for me, Jack.”

“Cory?” her mother said from the doorway. “You still talking to Jack?” Her mother smoothed the quilted bedcover. Leaning close, she framed and kissed her little girl’s face. Cory smelled cinnamon and cloves. “Good night, Sweetheart.”

“I love you, Mommy.”

“Sleep tight! Do you want me to leave the light on in the hall?”

“No, I’m not scared any more.” Her mother left. Cory looked toward the glowing face just beyond her bed. “Good night, Jack.”

“Good night, Pumpkin!” Jack’s candle twinkled.

“You’re the pumpkin, silly Jack. I’m a little girl.”

The Cherry Sourball

“We’re on the air in…” Marsha Mellow checked her watch, “ninety-eight minutes. So let’s rehearse the questions. Then you can both go back to makeup.”

“Thank you, Marsha,” Senator Toggle said, his gray hair perfectly coiffed. “Before we start, I want to say—”

“We only have a few minutes, Senator, so let’s get right to Dr. Setback’s discovery.” She turned to the crew arranging the set. “How’s the lighting?” The cameraman looked out from his camera and waved. “Sound, Geoff?” The straggle-haired soundman gave a thumbs-up and propped his sandaled feet on the mixing console.

Mellow began, “Doctor Setback and his team have perfected a Smart Pill. Have I said that correctly?” She looked at the scientist.

“It’s not a pill precisely, not in the medical sense. Actually,” he projected a stack of schematics and formulas, “it’s a precisely ordered sequence of APMs, atomically precise machines, that act as catalysts to restructure neural—”

“I’m sorry, Doctor,” Mellow interrupted, “our audience has a secondary-school understanding of science. Can you give them the lollypop version?” Setback looked chastised.

“My Smart Pill optimizes every human faculty,” he started again. “Saliva and sucking action in the mouth dissolves the pill to release nano, I mean, very tiny agents. From the mouth, these agents migrate to the brainstem then up to the brain. The affect is almost immediate.” Setback smiled. “We even made it cherry flavored to encourage sucking.”

Mellow leaned toward the scientist, her eyes dramatically wide. “How soon before I can expect to have encyclopedic knowledge, perfect memory, hyper-normal focus, and an expert golf swing?”

“You will have all those things and more, but pill production will be slow. My team took sixteen years to assemble this first—“

“Do you have it to show us, Doctor?” Mellow interrupted.

“It’s in the jacket I left in the car.”

“Okay, get it before we go on. For now, pretend you’re showing it to me.”

“This little pill has sixteen million agents,” he pointed to the hollow of his open hand, “each built atom by atom, and each designed specifically for one task.”

“Who gets this one?” Mellow asked, cheerily pointing to Setback’s open hand.

“Senator Toggle.” He gestured past Mellow who pivoted in her seat.

Toggle cleared his throat. “The Committee On Human Enhancement, which I chair, considers Dr. Setback’s Smart Pill to be a momentous breakthrough, perhaps the greatest in human history. Certainly it would be immoral to profit from this invention or to regulate its availability. So selecting the first recipient is a very serious responsibility. We must consider the humanitarian implications and those underserved in our community. I and my party—“

“Thank you, Senator Toggle,” Mellow said, “I think we’re ready to go.” She looked around. “Everyone take a break and get back in…” she checked her watch, “twenty-three minutes.” She looked at Setback. “Doctor, before makeup, could you bring in the pill—so we have it ready on set.”

Toggle left for the makeup room and Setback for the parking lot. Soundman Geoff gestured to the cameraman, pinching his thumb and forefinger to his pursed lips and pointing to the smoking deck. He took the sourball from his mouth and placed it on the mixer console before heading to the back door.

First to return to the set, Senator Toggle spotted Geoff’s sourball on the console. No one was around. He examined the red candy, holding it up to the light before poking it into his mouth.

“Ah, yes,” he murmured, “I knew I was the one. Everything’s so clear now. I was right all along.” He looked up savoring the cherry flavor and spreading his arms wide. “I’m the one,” he shouted and headed out the front door.

Doctor Setback walked in next with a wide-checked jacket over his arm.

“No, no, that won’t do,” Marsha Mellow said, coming in behind him. “We’ll get you another jacket. Just leave it here and go back to makeup.”

Setback removed a baggy with the red Smart Pill from the jacket, set them both on the mixing console, and followed Mellow to makeup.

At that moment, Geoff stumbled in, fell into his seat, and looked around. “Hey, Marsh’, you take my sourball? Ahh, I see it. Okay, thanks for putting it in a baggy.” He plopped the pill into his mouth. It was smaller than he remembered, but he decided not to accuse Mellow of sucking on it.

“Ready on set,” Marsha called, rushing out with Setback as the lights came up. “Now where’s Toggle?”

“I saw him running in the lot as I came in,” Geoff said, sucking vigorously.

“And where’s my Smart Pill,” Setback said, lifting the empty baggy. Geoff relaxed as he felt the pill take effect.

“I thought it was my cherry sourball,” he said. Setback’s knees buckled, and he grabbed the back of Geoff’s chair to stay upright.

“On the air,” the director said, “in eight, seven …”

“Quick, get over here,” Mellow pulled Geoff and Setback onto the set and pushed them into the seats. “Geoffrey Goodman,” she said, “you’re the first to try Doctor Setback’s Smart Pill. What do you have to say?” Her face wore a tight smile.

Slide1Geoff lifted his sandaled feet onto the coffee table. “It’s overwhelming, Marsha. Looking out from where I sit, I see it all clearly. Everyone has a special mission, a purpose, but we’re all consumed by our default settings. We treat our egos like a matter of life and death. The first thing we need to …”

From his living room recliner, Jeremy lifted the remote as he shouted to his girlfriend. “I thought Mellow had Senator Toggle scheduled for tonight.”

“Did we miss him?” Ashley called back. “I love hearing him. He really cares about us.”

Jeremy started flipping through the channels.

Aliens Among Us

Have you seen recent TV shows, movies, or magazine articles about animal intelligence? What you think about this probably depends on your point of view. Hardline Humanists might begrudge any intelligence—human or animal—that fails their hubristic standards. Perhaps they see themselves as separate from nature, beings apart, “noble in reason … infinite in faculty!” (Hamlet Act II, Scene 2) If dogs were as hubristic as humans, there would be ‘Dogists’. They’d see Hamlet as frivolous and look down their snouts at our poor scent tracking ability.

I’m not a Humanist. My God-created universe is filled with creatures with talents and missions different from mine—all animals, not just the cuddly, wide-eyed, furry ones or the ones that sing pretty songs. My wife, Carole, has caught me talking to worms, spiders, and snakes, and I confess to attempting conversations with many others. I don’t expect them to understand or talk back, but one never knows. Maybe animals understand us better than we understand ourselves.

st-francis-blessing-of-the-animals
St. Francis blessing the animals.

THE SQUIRREL: It was a hot afternoon in July. While uncoiling the hose to water our parched garden, I saw something move in the boxwood beside the house. I backed into the yard, and the creature, a small squirrel, stumbled out after me. I’d heard warnings about rabid animals behaving strangely, but I had another thought.

I kicked over a Frisbee, toed it toward the squirrel, and filled it with water. The squirrel buried its face in the plastic pool. After drinking, it watched me water the garden then hopped beside me to the front door.

“Want to go in?” It nosed closer to the door, so I let it in. I went to my reading chair while the squirrel checked out the place.

When it returned to the center of the room, I said, “Well, come here,” and tapped my leg.” It jumped into my lap. I didn’t think it was someone’s pet; it was too young, half the size of a grown squirrel, and had probably lost its mother before learning to fear humans.

The squirrel lived free in and near my back yard for the next two years, stopped by often for lunch, and raised at least two broods of squirrels in that time.

I noticed her protruding belly and rows of prominent teats for her first pregnancy, so I wasn’t surprised when she disappeared for a couple weeks.

Outside one afternoon, I heard her chittering to me from our cherry tree. On a low branch beside her sat two small squirrels.

I waved for her and she came. When her little ones followed, she stopped them, escorted them back to the branch and ‘told’ them to stay, I don’t know how, but they stayed still and were quiet. I offered some peanuts, and she took them back to share with her pups. The next couple weeks, she returned with them several times, but she never let them approach me. When the pups finally left, my squirrel and I went back to our regular routine. I thought she showed good parenting teaching her young not to trust humans or depend on handouts.

THE ELEPHANT: Early in my professional training, I had classes on Connecticut Avenue, across the street from the entrance to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. I brought my own food for lunch and strolled through the park. My route took me past the elephant compound, and I’d fill my jacket pocket with peanuts. One elephant always waited for me and raised her trunk when she saw me coming. I’d wave back and shake her trunk when I got to the compound. She soon discovered which pocket I kept peanuts in and reached for them soon after our initial greetings. That continued for two months until I graduated and went out of town.

Ten years later, I was back for a seminar in the same building where I’d done my initial training. For lunch I took a walk in the park. When I got to the elephants, they were all at the far side of the compound, perhaps a hundred yards away. Second- or third-grade children crowded the wall pointing across. One of the escorting teachers explained that they’d visit elephants on another day.

“One of these elephants is my friend,” I said, not sure why I butted in. “I’ll call her over.” The teacher bit her lip, trying not to laugh.

I waved and got a trunk wave back from the elephant I recognized by the dark splotch on her side. She turned from the herd and trotted across the compound by herself, waving as she came. I shook her trunk then introduced her to each of the children who did the same. Amenities taken care of, the elephant locked onto my gaze and, without further ado, reached into my jacket pocket for peanuts. I’d brought an entire bag, so her trunk made several trips. When we said goodbye, she watched me all the way out of the park. Elephants never forget.

THE BEES: Early spring was beautiful in our backyard in Alexandria. A large cherry tree hung over the deck and over our dining table. When the tree bloomed its pink blossoms rivaled anything in D.C.’s cherry blossom festival. We shared this beautiful tree with our neighbors, thousands of them—bumblebees buzzing so loud we had to raise our voices.

During our first year together, Carole asked if we’d be safe eating outdoors with all the bees. I answered, yes, that bees have their missions and we have ours. That said, the bees didn’t like intruders and often checked on us while we ate, hovering in for close looks.

One afternoon, I came home with bags of groceries in both arms. A sentinel bee hovered above the landing below our front door. Seeing my approach, it rushed up to hover a foot in front of my face. It centered on my eyes, aligned with the bridge of my nose, and shifted to maintain that position if I moved. I’d gone through enough security checkpoints to know when I was being scanned. A couple seconds later, the bee shifted laterally to let me pass then returned to its original position. The rest of the week, I got waved through without delay.

 

These Earth-bound aliens have a basis to communicate with humans—we have parallel missions. Space aliens may not. Perhaps they’ll communicate through electrical impulses or scent trails. If they send us mathematical formulae to test our intelligence, might we mistake them for cilantro?

Wild Humans Safari

Wouldn’t it be great if we could see ourselves as others see us … maybe not.

___________

Thank you for choosing Intergalactic Excursions. This joyous Jakettic season we will take you to the outer rim of the Milky Way galaxy for a Wild Humans Safari. In human guise you will walk among them and observe their behavior first hand. You will watch herds of humans grazing at watering holes and wonder at their colorful mating rituals. Included in your package is a gala celebration to select a human herd leader. At this event, you will see prospective leaders, hear their fanciful posturing, and delight in the synchronized chanting of their inebriated worshipers.

For their safety, Jakettic travelers who wish to participate rather than merely observe human rituals are advised to adhere to the following guidelines.

CLOTHING: Humans remain fully clothed except when mating. Removal or partial removal of clothing, particularly below the waist, may give offense or be seen as an invitation to mate. Provoked in this manner, humans may charge.

RELIGION: Unlike sentient species, humans ascribe supernatural powers to entities and objects of no particular significance. The primary human deities are: herd leaders, entertainers, wealthy or attractive humans, and themselves. Self-worship is expressed in obsessions with personal appearance, possessions, and personal gratification. Humans tend to be very religious. Any aspersions cast upon their deity—or praise for any other deity—may cause them to charge.

CONVERSATION: The holiday traveler may find human conversation difficult to master. Humans use it to entice mates, to deceive others about their accomplishments or material wealth, or to determine herd affiliation—rarely to pass information. If one’s accomplishments or wealth are not sufficient, humans may move away and avoid further attempts to communicate. If one’s herd is considered hostile or mating intentions are rejected, humans may charge.

To engage a human in conversation it is customary to open with a religious platitude. Compliments on appearance or material possessions are preferred. For example, “Your hair looks fabulous,” or “What a fine dwelling you have.”

CAUTION: When commenting on a human’s appearance, we advise travelers to limit comments to the area of the head. Below-the-neck compliments can stir anger or be taken as an invitation to mate. Since your holiday guise is not equipped for mating, any attempt to do so will anger the human and cause them to charge. As an alternative, we recommend opening conversations with praise for a herd leader. But here again the traveler is advised, praise for the wrong herd leader is considered aggressive. Humans may charge.

CONSUMPTION: Lacking wind collectors on their heads or solar scales on their bodies, humans must acquire energy by consuming organic matter—plants and animals they refer to as FOOD.

Humans often consume FOOD socially as a shared herd activity. This consumption involves complex rituals and skills with specialized tools. The traveler is warned that some herds have strictures on particular foods. Consuming a prohibited food is considered a personal insult. Humans may charge.

As a safety precaution, you may wish to consume food alone or only in the company of human males. Males often forgo all ritual by pouring organic matter directly into their upturned faces.

CAUTION: During food consumption human males often over consume distilled liquids that incapacitate their brain function. In such states males become highly volatile and may charge without provocation.

OFTEN CONFUSED WITH CONSUMPTION: Humans may be seen exposing themselves nude or almost nude to their sun. This is actually a form of self-worship (see RELIGION above) and not an energy gathering process. The intent is to improve their physical appearance to attract mates.

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Humans by the watering hole.

MATING: Human mating is rarely for procreation and is yet another form of self-worship (see RELIGION above). Gathered beside watering holes, humans will be seen strutting, gyrating and otherwise displaying themselves to attract mates. If their presentation is accepted, a human, usually a male, will proceed immediately to misrepresent accomplishments or material wealth in order to heighten desirability.

WARNING TO TRAVELERS: Once mating behavior is observed, all travelers are advised to move well back. Aroused humans, male and female, feel threatened when anyone comes between them and a prospective mate and may charge. Danger is greatest if the traveler has assumed the guise of a well-known entertainer. These deities (See Religion above) are known to arouse humans and may cause the traveler to be targeted as a mate or rival.

We hope you enjoy your Wild Humans Safari, and wish you and your spawn a Setis Jakettic. Please consider Intergalactic Excursions for you next holiday.