Gleipnok wakes to discover that sometime while sleeping she transformed into a big, hairy Earthling. Legs already hanging from the end of her once roomy sleep pod, she wriggles out and reaches with her mind for her crewmates. Thinking things like, “Ah!” and “Help!” and “I’m a big, hairy Earthling! How did that happen?”
Once she stops her mental screaming, she hears how quiet it is in her mind. For the first time in her life, she’s alone with her thoughts. “Where is everyone?”
She sticks her gigantic head in Turmbladt’s sleep pod. He’s just getting up, rubbing his long, dark eyes. When he sees her, he reels back in terror, as if discovering one of their research subjects freely exploring the ship. For that is what this looks like.
Gleipnok reaches out to explain, but Turmbladt acts like he can’t hear her. Reaches instead for his stun gun.
As she comes to, Gleipnok sees the ship rise and disappear among the stars. Leaving her behind. Exposed and shivering, she walks to keep warm. She’d dismissed her colleagues as superstitious, but perchance there’d been something to their warning — If you keep touching Earthlings, you’ll turn into one.
Balderdash, she’d thought. Humans were always so scared, especially when they awoke mid-procedure. Taking off a glove and laying her hand on an arm was the only way to calm them long enough to re-tranq them.
But look what it’s brought her now.
She has to figure this out. Reverse it, get back home, reintegrate with the collective. The internal silence consumes her.
She used to long for such quiet. Now she that has it, it’s horrifying.
At dawn, Gleipnok finds a remote dwelling. Something she’ll learn to call a farm. The Earth-man living there, though frightened at first, lowers his weapon and offers food, clothing, shelter. He pats his chest, saying “Ike.” But she doesn’t know how tongues work. When he points to her, she makes a noise like a six-footed pack beast drying up in quick-mud on the fourth moon of Antares V.
Every morning, Ike gets something called a newspaper. And the first one has a message for Gleipnok on its front page. An aerial photograph of a nearby field bearing the pictograms of her people. It says:
Gleipnok. Couldn’t risk contamination. Use time well. Returning with doctor.
Ike is kind and gentle, accommodating and accepting, so Gleipnok will stay put if he’ll have her. She learns to muck stalls. Slop pigs. Cook the odd meal or two. Human food is by far more sensual than protein pills. She endeavors to learn Ike’s language, and at the end of every day, she touches his arm, reassuring him she means no harm.
As her language skills develop, Gleipnok chooses a local name to better fit in — Geneva. Ike likes the sound of it, even though his family and friends prefer to call her Jenny.
She learns all she can about human society. And anything else she can wrap her intellect around. Develops a computer program to write books in her people’s pictograms. Begins writing the definitive work on Earthling anthropology — something she’d always wanted to do. Observe and report rather than snatch and probe. What would they ever learn from that, anyway?
When Ike asks to read what she’s working on, she shows him a story she’s been writing as a cover. A historical romance set in the time of the expansion into the Tau Ceti system and the ensuing robot uprising. He likes it. Tells her to send it out, see if publishers like it, too. She does, and a magazine soon publishes it, misidentifying it as science fiction. That night, they celebrate her success. And instead of touching his arm at bedtime, she hugs him instead.
Each night, their touching becomes more intimate, more daring, and it’s not long before they’re sharing a bed. Quite convenient, as the chapter on mating rituals in Gleipnok’s book is a little light and will benefit from hands-on research.
One night, Gleipnok and Ike watch the sunset from the porch swing, as they’re wont to do these days. Ike spots a weird light in the sky. A meteor? No. It’s the past she’d rather not discuss finally coming to a head.
She squeezes his hand, asks him to trust her as the ship lands in their yard and three squat beige beings emerge. The one in the middle — a female, even though you can’t tell by looking — holds a tablet that displays her thought-speech as picts.
You are the one we call Gleipnok?
She nods, producing a cell phone. Calls up the app she made for writing pict-messages. They fire images back and forth. The visitor thinks they can reverse what happened to Gleipnok. A 90% certainty. There’s talk of giving her a prestigious post afterward, given her unique life experience now. Maybe even Minister of Interplanetary Exploration.
In the middle of all this, Gleipnok turns to Ike. “Babe, can you bring out the box beside my writing desk?”
Befuddled and bemused, he does as she asks. When he returns, she’s showing her ring to the little alien, who then reaches out, putting a small, four-fingered hand to her belly. A new message appears on the tablet.
Your decision is already made then?
She nods and sends back: Has been for a while. Thanks for checking in on me, though.
She presents her pictogram manuscript — five volumes, double-sided and Cerlox-bound. Everything You Wanted to Know About Humanity but Were Afraid to Ask. The alien takes it and returns to the ship with her crewmates.
As the visitors zoom away, Gleipnok takes her husband’s hand, knowing she has much to explain. But he just looks to the sky and says, “What would you think about stars in the nursery?”
Banner Image: Pixabay.com