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The Challenge of Contact

 

Chapter 2
Surprise Visitor

One morning, about nine months later, I was in the middle of taking a couple of loaves of banana nut bread out of the oven when the doorbell rang. It never seems to fail, I thought. I put the pans on a rack, then pulled off the hot-pad mittens and tossed them onto the counter. It was 10 a.m. on Wednesday, January 12, 2000.

At the door was a young woman, perhaps in her early 30s, attractive in a girl-next-door kind of way. She was neatly dressed in a skirt and blouse that I would guess probably came from the racks of Sears rather than Sachs. Her shoes were simple brown pumps. Her auburn hair fell in soft waves to about shoulder length, and she wore just a touch of makeup on her eyes and lips. She flashed a beguiling smile of straight, white teeth.

At first I figured her for a religious proselytizer.

"Hello," she said. She wrinkled her button nose and leaned into the doorway. "Something smells awfully good," she said.

"Yeah, I'm doing a little baking," I replied.

Several seconds passed and we merely stared at each other. The radiant smile remained on her cute face while her deep green eyes sparkled. Finally, when it seemed that she wasn't going to say anything further, I asked, "Can I help you?"

"Oh, I was just in the neighborhood and thought I'd drop by to say hi, to see how things are going," she said.

I ran her face through all of the memory banks that I could access at the moment, but drew a blank. A neighbor? A forgotten acquaintance? A friend of my wife? I simply could not place her. Perhaps she was mistaken and had come to the wrong house. I knew I wasn't going to bluff my way out--I was going to have to ask her who she was. I also knew that I probably was going to feel foolish when she told me.

"I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage," I said cheerfully. "I don't recognize you." I hoped my squirming would go unnoticed.

"Well, I've changed a bit since we last saw each other," she said with a coy grin. "You haven't changed, of course, except that you're dressed now. The last time I saw you, you were in your underwear. You've also picked up a few pounds." She mischievously poked a finger into the little roll around my midsection.

I stared blankly at her. Brain circuits opened and closed as I searched for some familiar landmark. A pretty young woman, me in my underwear. It was a rather improbable link, but apparently there was a connection. I had recently seen a female doctor, but this certainly wasn't her.

Suddenly a light went on.

"Gina?" I asked in a husky whisper.

My God, was it really her? I was just about to throw my arms around her when my cautious nature urged me to slow down. It may be just an ordinary human female who had read my book and was engaged in a prank, I told myself. I had to think of something, some information that we had exchanged that was not in the book. But what?

Then it hit me--her real name, her Verdant name. She had told me what it was, but I had never used it. Therefore, no reader--no one on Earth, as far as I knew--had that information. And I remembered it easily for several reasons. First, it didn't contain any of those unpronounceable sounds that peppered the Verdant language. Second, it was quite a pretty name, one that I considered lyrical: Gretcheenyal (a phonetic spelling of the sound that I heard). And third, the human female name "Gina" sounded like it could be an appropriate nickname for it.

"What's your name," I asked, perhaps a little too distantly, too suspiciously.

"I'm really Gina," she replied in a sprightly voice, giving me a look of assurance.

I stared at her again. I had never really appreciated the range of expressions capable in the human face before meeting the Verdants. Whereas it took intense study and observation to finally begin to recognize the minuscule fluctuations in the facial muscles that express Verdant moods and emotions, the human face is like an open book. And right now, a look of questioning and incomprehension played across the woman's features. Then her face brightened.

"Oh, of course," she said. "I'm Gretcheenyal."

Spontaneously, I grabbed her and clutched her in a bear hug. She giggled as I planted a big kiss on her cheek. I broke away and took both of her hands in mine.

"Come in," I said, drawing her into the living room, closing the door behind her. "What are . . . how did . . . what happened . . . why are you . . . ?" This was more than a surprise; it was sheer amazement. After my visit to the ship in 1997 and the events that followed, I really believed I had lost my capacity for being amazed.

I was wrong.

"Whoa. Hold on. Slow down," she said, laughing. She was delighted by my reaction. It was written all over her expressive human face.

I took her into the kitchen, sat her down at the table, and put two enormous slices of the freshly baked and still warm bread onto plates. I set out two forks, poured us each a cup of herbal tea, then slathered each slab of bread with a generous portion of fresh creamery butter.

Between bites and sips of the tea, she told me that she had been genetically altered and beamed down only seconds before she rang the doorbell. Since I live on a cul-de-sac, which is generally quiet and deserted during the day, there was no problem in her arriving unnoticed. Besides, my "front" door is actually on the side of the house and is largely hidden from street view.

(I recall Gina saying upon her arrival that she had been genetically altered, but my notes are not crystal clear about this. I'm going to assume she was, as I was directly told on my first visit to the ship in 1997 that the Verdants had mastered this process. It has been suggested to me that her appearance might have been a mental or holographic projection of some sort, which I would not rule out. However, this seems unlikely because, as you will now see, she maintained her form during our stroll through a local mall, and in fact was noticed by others there as we walked and talked.)

As I gazed fondly at her delicate features, I was suddenly overcome with a sense of deja vu. The memory of a dream came rushing back to my consciousness, and I excitedly shared with her my recollection.

"C'mon, fess up, now," she said. "You've had many revealing and insightful dreams, haven't you? That certainly wasn't the only one."

She was right, of course. I had started to dream in volumes, and they began taking on such form and substance that I wondered if they were more than mere nighttime fantasies, if they might possibly have been some form of communication. There was an interesting pattern in the way they played out, almost like one of the old movie serials of yore. In the first installment, Gina visited me in human form and told me that I would return to the ship. After three or four such dreams, it became obvious that they were all part of a continuing saga; each one picked up where the preceding one left off. It was like a story falling into place, and I began looking forward to sleeping each night and to whatever new surprises and revelations the next installment might bring.

The nocturnal sagas continued sporadically over a period of months until I had a complete story, with a very definite beginning in which I was prepared for a return to the ship, a middle in which I was back among the aliens and was continuing my education, and an end in which I bade farewell to my hosts and returned to my home.

I finally asked her if the Verdants had been contacting me while I slept.

"This bread is wonderful," she said as she washed the last of it down with a gulp of tea. "I wouldn't be able to eat it in my Verdant form, though."

She must have had a good reason to avoid my question so I decided to play along. But I was absolutely determined that I was going to get some answers before she left the house.

"Why not?" I asked. "There's no meat in it."

"I know, but Verdants can't digest butter or any other animal by-products," she replied. "Our bodies aren't equipped to process anything but plant matter. It's just a matter of simple physiology."

I mentioned that the bread also contained eggs and milk, but she said that was no problem in her human form. Even meat could be digested in her present biological configuration, but consuming flesh would not be considered because of moral objections. Even if the Verdants had the digestive systems to process meat, they would never do so.

"Anyway," I said, "I know you didn't travel 250,000 miles to compliment me on my cooking. First, I'd like you to answer my question about the dreams. Then I want to know why you're here. Do you have good news for me?"

To me, good news would be that I would be going back to the Goodwill. While the events being played out now were not identical to the dream that I had along these lines, there were striking similarities in some areas.

"OK, the dreams. Yes, we were in contact with your subconscious mind for reasons that you wouldn't understand even if I explained them to you. Let's just say that we have our methodologies, our procedures, our agendas. They serve a purpose for us, but you shouldn't put too much stock in them. Certainly you shouldn't interpret them literally. That's the best advice I can give you," she said.

She picked at the few remaining crumbs on her plate, wetting a finger to snag them and then licking it. I offered her another slice, but she declined.

"It's very good, but I'm stuffed," she said. After a pause, she continued. "Yes, I have good news for you, if you consider an invitation to return to the ship as good news."

I could not restrain my excitement. It was something that I had been hoping for and that had occupied my mind for much of the previous two years. I beamed a broad, elated smile, jumped up from my chair in a moment of unbridled enthusiasm, grabbed one of her hands in both of mine and shook it enthusiastically.

What the heck, I thought. In a moment of sheer joy in which I threw decorum to the wind, I pulled her to me and hugged her. Her hair had a wonderfully clean smell. This figure before me was for the moment not an alien but a lovely human woman, and as I held her tightly to me, feeling the shapely waist beneath the arm that I had wrapped tightly around it, I suddenly experienced a reaction that went beyond mere friendship.

I turned her loose and quickly stepped back. An embrace that began as an expression of delight and enthusiasm had quickly escalated into something inappropriate.

Gina gave me a coquettish grin and took her chair again.

"My, my. Were you being naughty?" she asked.

I actually blushed. Even at my grandfatherly age, I could feel the heat of my reddening cheeks as though I were some awkward schoolboy.

"I'm sorry," I whispered. "That took me totally by surprise, and I meant no disrespect."

Gina chuckled and waved off my uneasy apology with a flip of her arm that said I was making too much of it.

***

Odd as it may sound, Gina and I had had a previous "sexual history." On my first visit to the alien spacecraft in 1997, Gina and I found ourselves alone in a lounge area during one of the informal periods in which she was showing me around the ship. She had been asking very pointed questions about the mating habits of humans, a subject that made me somewhat uncomfortable, and I kept trying to steer the conversation in other directions.

But she had persisted, and eventually exposed her naked body to me and suggested a sexual encounter, which I immediately spurned. It was obvious to me at the time that she was not driven by any particular passion for me but rather by simple curiosity. The Verdants have a healthy open attitude about sex and do not burden the subject with the kind of moral, spiritual, and emotional baggage with which some humans tend to overload it.

She had not been offended by my rejection, and that was the end of the matter. I wrote about that incident--and one other with heavy religious and spiritual overtones--in detail in The Contact Has Begun, although my initial inclination was to omit both. The sexual episode was embarrassing to me and I felt awkward and uneasy about relating it. (Was this an example of the emotional "baggage" that we humans attach to the subject of sex--in this case prudery?) My report about the spiritual incident was also extremely controversial, and to compound the difficulty, I felt inadequate about writing on this subject because of my woeful lack of knowledge about even the fundamentals of religion.

Since neither incident was integral to the construction of the white paper, I felt justified in leaving them out. But after much agonizing, I felt that I should include them as a matter of accurately recording all events in order to give the complete story of what had occurred during my three days aboard the ship. It was a decision that was destined to get me into a bit of hot water, as you will see later in this book.

***

"Come on, we've got some work to do," Gina said to me in my kitchen.

And so we settled back down to business.

"I said there was good news," Gina continued. "And while there is no conversely bad news as such, I do want you to be aware that there is a serious side to the purpose of the invitation. In other words, your return will not be a mere lark but involves matters of genuine concern with sobering implications."

What in the world did that mean? She explained that all Ambassadors were being recalled for short work sessions and mini-conferences to iron out some difficulties that had arisen and to address some deep questions that had surfaced over the previous year. Most of the Ambassadors had already been debriefed, some were currently in the process of being so, and a very small number still had yet to be recalled. Only a very select few of the Deputy Envoys--of which I was one--would actually make the return trip to the ship. The remainder would be briefed in other ways.

Her face and voice had taken on a more serious bearing. I asked her if anything was wrong.

"Nothing to become overly alarmed about." She put a cheerful look on her face. "Let's leave it at that for the time being."

"Can we take a tour?" she asked. "I'd like to see your neighborhood. I've never been on Earth before."

"Sure," I said. "Do you want to walk or take a drive?"

"Let's drive," she replied.

Making sure she was buckled up, I backed the car out of the garage and took her to the grocery store down the street. At the store she wandered the aisles in fascination for about half an hour. Undoubtedly, the store was primitive by her standards, but even we humans can find enchantment in poking around in the ruins of ancient civilizations. Then we headed for the local mall, and it was immediately obvious from the moment we set foot inside that she could be there until closing time. She was enthralled as we roamed each store in consecutive order.

We talked as we walked. It was simple chitchat, nothing at all to do with momentous events of the past or those still to come. Instead of asking the price of various items that caught her eye, she asked me how many hours or days an average person would have to work to pay for them. There was no easy answer because such questions then led us into discussions about the distribution of wealth under our system. I had to explain that a doctor might have to work only an hour or so to buy a sport coat or a fancy tie, while a bank teller or a laborer might have to work several days to earn the price of the same item.

At one point we stopped at the food court. I purchased an order of rice for her from a Chinese fast-food outlet, and for myself chose a slice of plain cheese pizza from another restaurant. I had deliberately selected the rice in an effort to avoid anything containing animal products.

She took one taste of the rice and immediately spit it out. The look of distress on her face shocked me. Apparently it had been prepared with a small amount of chicken stock, which she immediately detected. I tasted it myself and just couldn't tell. We continued our tour, and so the day went.

"When can I go back?" I eventually asked.

"We've made arrangements for Saturday afternoon. Monday is a holiday in much of your nation so we'll have a few others there also. It's a good time for them to get away."

I stopped on the spot and turned to face her. A couple behind me almost ran into us. The man muttered something under his breath as they passed.

"You bet," I said. "I'll be ready. It's a date."

I then told her of a dream I had had in the middle of one week in which I was told that I would go back to the ship on the following Saturday. This dream had occurred during a period when I was attempting to make telepathic communication with the Verdants and had entertained the seemingly bizarre notion that they might be communicating with me in my dreams. After I awoke that morning, I wasn't sure whether my dream was just a common, ordinary nocturnal fantasy or whether they had actually contacted me in my sleep. Nevertheless, I counted down the days to the weekend.

The eagerly anticipated Saturday came and went uneventfully, I told her.

Gina smiled and winked at me.

We roamed the mall for another couple of hours and then headed back to the house. It was nearly 6 p.m., and my wife would soon be getting home from work. Gina said that my wife was welcome to accompany me and that she would like to meet her. I promised to pass along the invitation.

I parked the car, closed the garage door with the remote, and invited her back into the house. She declined and said she needed to leave but that she would see me on Saturday.

"If your wife decides to come along, just hold her hand at that time and we'll know," she said.

She pulled a small device from the pocket of her skirt, and almost instantly the inside of the garage--including me--was bathed in the familiar bluish-white light.

The light narrowed into a beam focused upon her.

"Until Saturday, then," she said, and disappeared along with the light.

Contents  |   Publisher's Preface  |  Preface  |  Recap  |  Chapter 1  |  Chapter 2


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