As instantaneously as Cathy’s truck had left, it had arrived. Where, Alvin didn’t know. It was inside something. When they got out of the truck he saw it was a large, sterile white room but with many colored blinking lights and tall tables against the walls, that seemingly had no business having a truck parked in the middle of it despite the fact there was sufficient room.
“Come on,” Cathy gestured as Alvin paused at the back end of the truck. “It’s okay.” And he followed.
She didn’t open the room’s door, it opened by itself. Before them was a stark, empty hallway. It was like the hallway in a hospital, though, rounded at the top corners and seemingly all metallic. There were no people and no sounds. Cathy walked forward but Alvin took just one step beyond the door and stopped. Cathy turned back and grabbed the cuff of his coat in her fingers. “It’s okay,” she said, and pulled him forward like a German Shepherd leading a blind man. He offered no resistance as they went forward, but Cathy continued to hold onto the cuff of his coat as they walked.
“Where are we?” Alvin asked.
“In the hall.”
“In the hall of what?”
“What is that?”
“A ship. The mothership.”
There appeared to be doorways along the corridor but they were blocked off with some sort of fabric, seemingly hastily thrown up and not intended to be permanent, just merely intended as temporary no entry or exit points. Alvin and Cathy turned right at a corner—there being no other option as the left side, like the doorways, had been blocked off in the same rather flimsy, hurried manner.
The journey was brief. The hall gave way to a widened alcove and in the middle of the alcove were two doors ten feet-high.
“Here,” Cathy said. “You can go in.”
He gave her a hard look. “Into what?”
“It’s okay, Alvin. Really.”
“Are you coming in?”
“No. Go ahead. It’s okay. You’re expected.” She smiled but it was forced. She saw that the look from him was an accusation. She thought about them dancing together before and she knew he was thinking about it as well, and was now trying to comprehend something that was not comprehensible.
Wherever he was, and whatever it was, whether it was a dream, or the Twilight Zone, or a twisted reality, Alvin knew that the previous two hours with Cathy had been a charade. He resented it, and she knew it.
She pulled at the cuff of his coat and shook it gently, hoping to make things better. “It’s okay.”
This door didn’t open by itself but had a handle. Alvin entered. It was a lovely room. Very woody. Like a study. Quite different than the hallway. A man sitting behind a desk at the front of the room got up from his seat. “Welcome, Alvin,” he said warmly. He gestured to a chair fifteen feet in front of his desk. It was the only other chair in the room. “Please have a seat.”
Alvin suddenly felt a curious and unexpected calm. He wasn’t sure why. But the man before him was very familiar.
They both sat down. Alvin was no longer wondering where he was or what it was, but was now intent on figuring out where he knew this person from because it had suddenly become an immediate and obstructive obsession. Then he figured it out. “You’re Rip Torn. You’re Rip Torn the actor.”
The other chuckled. “Thank you. No, my name is Taus. But I’m pleased that you recognized me as Rip Torn the actor. That’s pretty much what we were going for.”
“You sound just like him too.”
“Really? Oh, that’s great. Well, two for two, huh? Ha. See, this isn’t how I really look. It’s how I look for meeting you. And it’s how we’re able to communicate, you know, in your own language, in English. But I wanted to present myself in a way that would be comfortable for you.”
“Why? What do you really look like?”
“That’s not important, Alvin. What’s important is that you’re here. And we’re very glad you are. Welcome.”
“This is the Mela.”
“And what is that?”
“A ship where?”
“What you would call outer space. Are you thirsty? I bet you’re thirsty.”
“I’d like a glass of water.”
“We don’t have drinking water, not the kind you’re thinking of anyway, but if you go to that little table over there you’ll find something I think will suffice.”
Alvin went to the table and poured a bright green fluid from a flask into what looked like a ceramic coconut shell.
“What is this?” Alvin asked, looking down into it.
“Okay. Whatever. Where exactly am I? Are we above Earth somewhere?”
“Oh, no. We’re far beyond. Like I said, in outer space. Well, outer space to you, anyway. Not necessarily to us.”
“Who are you?”
“We’re the Grace.”
“The grace of what?”
“The grace of what? The grace of God?”
“Oh, no, just the Grace. I see the confusion. No, we’re not the noun grace, just the people. Well, I guess it’s a noun either way, now that I think of it. Anyway, it’s just a coincidence, the name business.”
The image of Taus and the desk flickered. It disappeared for a second, then returned. With cup in hand Alvin approached the desk and reached his other hand out to touch it.
“I’m not really here, Alvin, if that’s what you’re attempting to determine. Nor is the desk. I’m a hologram. Why don’t you sit back down.”
Just to satisfy his curiosity, Alvin finished sticking his hand into the desk part of the image. His hand disappeared within it and he pulled it back out, then gave a quick glance to it to make sure it was still there attached to his arm. He returned to his chair.
“Where are you?” Alvin asked.
“Here on the ship, in another room,” Taus said in a friendly manner.
“So, you’re an alien?”
“To you, I suppose, yes. I guess that would be an accurate assessment.”
“Mm hm. I see.” Alvin put his glass of fluid down on the floor. “I want to talk to the human girl,” he said bluntly. “I don’t want to talk to you. I want to talk to her.”
“The human girl,” Taus responded.
“Yeah, Cathy. The human girl. I don’t know what she’s doing here, but I don’t want to talk to you anymore. I want to talk to her.”
Taus had to pause and consider the curious request. “She’s a robot, Alvin.”
Alvin stared at Taus for a long time trying to make sure he actually heard what he thought he heard. “What do you mean she’s a robot!”
“Just what I said. She’s a robot. JM-4.”
“I saw her drinking beer!”
“Robots can drink beer, Alvin.”
“I don’t think so!”
“If they can drink beer, then how do they get rid of it?”
“By peeing. These are very elementary questions, Alvin. I thought you would have other questions.”
“Peeing,” Alvin mirrored, not letting it go.
“They can. Sure. Well, JM-4 can anyway, you know, if necessary, if having been drinking beer.”
Alvin searched for a follow-up argument given that these revelations were still not acceptable. “I danced with her,” he said. “She was soft and warm, like a human being. And I felt her breath!”
“Internal thermal regulator. JM-4 intakes, circulates, and expels the ambient air—it being relatively cooler—in order to help maintain a proper operating temperature. The interior pump that makes this work also causes her chest to rise and fall slowly, just like a human’s does. That was sort of a lucky accidental byproduct we weren’t expecting at first. Neat huh?”
Alvin couldn’t do anything other than stare at this human image and attempt to withstand the information it was inserting.
“I can see you’re upset,” Taus acknowledged. “Maybe now isn’t a good time to talk. Why don’t we pick this up in the morning? I should have suggested that originally. You get some sleep and we’ll talk tomorrow when you’ve had a chance to absorb all this. I know it’s hard.”
Taus tapped a button on his desk.
The door opened. There stood an eight-foot Golem-like creature with a slate gray face and a thick black head of hair falling to its elbows.
“Come,” it said.
Alvin stalled. “What is that!”
“It’s Vaka,” Taus said. “She’s fine. It’s okay. She’ll take you to your room.”
Alvin, with his mouth agape, still hesitated.
“Come, come, come, come!” Vaka repeated, gesturing with her five-inch fingers for Alvin to follow her.
“Go on, Alvin,” Taus said reassuringly. “You’re tired. Go lay down. We’ll talk in the morning.”
“Chop-chop,” said Vaka.
Alvin followed, having been presented no other options.
Dwarfing him by over two feet, this was the most frightening presence Alvin had ever been this close to without there being zoo bars between the two of them. But as they continued their journey, going from the private corridor to public corridors, everybody he saw looked just like her. The Grace had faces like they were carved in stone. But human-like nonetheless. The faces were longer in scale than human faces, but all the normal accoutrements were there: eyes with pupils and whites surrounding; nose, though flatter; mouth and lips, the former being proportional by human standards but the latter thinner. He assumed there were ears but all the Grace were endowed with thick, course black hair which parted in the middle and fell down to their elbows. He couldn’t tell a gender difference as they were all about the same eight-foot height and there was no physical difference that might aid him in determining which was which such as broader hips, round behinds, breasts, beards, or a basic facial appearance that normally conveyed a gender regardless of the other accoutrements. Vaka’s voice, however, nonetheless had a feminine quality to it, which he kind of appreciated, though, she would definitely be an alto in the church choir back on Earth. They were all equally broad but fit, straight, and slender, though, rather barrel chested with proportionally larger rib cages than Earth people. And while there was generally a universal height, there being no comparatively diminutive Grace, Vaka towered over her compatriots at a height Alvin estimated to be about eight-foot five.
She, as well as everyone else he had passed in the halls, dressed both splendidly and identically—the only variation being color choice. They didn’t wear pants or skirts, but heavy, full length gowns, like dresses, but then with another heavy floor-length vest over it. There was no variation of hair style; it was all thick, matte black, course looking, and went to the elbows, not as if intentionally cut at that point but rather because that seemed the natural point at which it stopped growing. And always symmetrically parted down the middle of the head. Alvin assumed this was also a natural occurrence rather than an intentional one as getting a comb through that head of hair every day in order to make the part would have to be a bear.
Vaka suddenly stopped at a doorway. Alvin, following on her heels but preoccupied with everyone around him ran into her back end. She turned and looked down at him wondering what his problem was.
“Sorry,” he said.
She tapped a short code on the wall box beside the door and the split door’s left and right halves receded into the wall. She entered and he followed.
“Bed,” said Vaka, pointing through Alvin’s room. “Communicator,” she said pointing to some plastic-like box on the wall. She walked to the bed. “Pillow, huh?” she said, patting a pillow. “Many blankets. All nice.”
That helped a bit, and in Alvin’s mind she went from giant monster to possibly reasonable giant monster.
“Wants cresp?” she said to him.
“Wants cresp. Um, calm down thing.” She held two of her fingers a tiny bit apart. “Little thing. You know? Calm down thing.”
“Yes. Wants sed-a-tiv.”
“You, Alvin Zaronsky!”
“Well, you’re using a third person singular verb, so I don’t know who you’re talking about!”
Vaka considered it. Then she stopped considering it. “Cresp, yes or no?”
Alvin didn’t need to give it much thought. “Yes, I think I would want that.”
Apparently, this was anticipated as Vaka had one in a small glass-like case in her pocket. She gave it to Alvin and then retrieved a flask of orange liquid and a cup from the table.”
“Thank you,” he said.
Alvin swallowed the pill and washed it down with the orange liquid. “Ew,” he said, responding to the taste of the fluid.
“Ew? Bad?” she asked.
“No, it’s fine.” He thought he’d throw up. It tasted like liquified baked apples.
“No go out with cresp inside. Stay here. Go to bed,” she said.
“Check,” said Alvin.
“Check,” he repeated.
She gave an acknowledging nod. She turned to leave but then stopped at the opened door and looked back to Alvin. “Mm, my English, good?”
A negative response seemed ill-advised. “Real fine,” Alvin said.
She nodded again, pleased, and closed the door behind her.
Alvin lay down on the bed. Within five minutes he was more stoned than he had ever been before, including when Rika shared her psilocybin mushroom mix. The ceiling became a sea of moving colors. And from out of the sea came dead people he had known or once met. But all they said was, “Hi, Alvin. How are you? I’m fine.” And they were smiling. Then dead people from the past, from antiquity came. Christopher Columbus came. He started a conversation about his voyage and then faded away. It was an interesting story, and Alvin at first was displeased that he faded away, but then Columbus was immediately replaced with Jesus. “Can I sit down?” Jesus asked.
“Yes,” Alvin said.
Jesus sat next to him. “We have a lot to talk about,” Jesus said. “But I want you to know that everything is okay.” Jesus patted Alvin’s hand and smiled.
“Thanks,” said Alvin, and he was filled with the most marvelous calm and sense of peace.
“Now, Dorothy,” Auntie Em said from high above Jesus. “you always get yourself into a fret over nothing. Now, you just find yourself a place today where you won’t get into any trouble.” And Dorothy appeared in Em’s place, and thought aloud, “Some place where there isn’t any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. Some place you can’t get to by a boat or a train, it’s far, far away, beyond the moon, beyond the rain,” and she sang, “Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high, there’s a land that I heard of, once in a lullaby.”
And Alvin went to sleep.