When I Was A Child On Earth An astronaut meets an extraterrestrial who desires to share his most intimate experiences.

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Dec 20, 2014 3 Comments ›› admin

FICTION
By Lynn Woolley

Editor’s note: What if you found a soul-mate that wanted to share all your experiences — all the way back to your earliest childhood memories? What would you do? This story was begun in December, 1987 and completed in February, 1988. It was updated slightly for this post.

This is a story I have been reluctant to tell. But now that we’ve been back on Threa for some time, no harm can come from the telling.

I was 66 years old when I first met the Entity. I had long since relinquished my command of a starship, but I remained with the Space Force as an adviser. I was stationed on a base in the Gemini system some thirty-five light years from Earth. It was a new base, set up to aid in the exploration of what had been a relatively unfamiliar area, though now starships were passing through from time to time.

It was during the course of a routine shuttle mission that my story really begins.

I was alone. Normally, that would not cause a problem, even under heavy attack. My ship was small but sophisticated, guided by a bio-digital computer of the most advanced type. It would respond to my every vocal command, however (because my own engrams had been impressed into its memory), it was fully capable of making complex decisions on its own should I become disabled.

So the computer ran the ship, and therefore had access to the external force fields, weaponry, scanners, and life support systems. It was quite improbable that even an unknown enemy could damage the vessel; totally impossible that a meteor could.

But it did happen!

The very meteor I was about to intercept for a mineral sample was suddenly closer than I thought. Something must have been wrong with the computer.

The scanners should have correctly noted the meteor’s position; they didn’t. Failing that, the force field should have switched itself on. At last resort, the lasers should have blasted the meteor into space dust. None of these things happened.

So it struck!

I caught only a fleeting glance of it on video before my ship was destroyed. When I awoke, it seemed like a dream.

I was flabbergasted, but thrilled to be alive. I saw no trace of the meteor or my ship; just a jungle-like landscape on this — planet — or whatever it was.

Somehow, I had been snatched from the doomed ship just at the moment of impact.

But how? By whom?

Questions that would soon be answered — at least in part.

As I began my exploration of this strange new world, I examined the landscape and the vegetation. The trees, the bushes, the grass — all seemed like Earth plants, though different somehow. They just weren’t right. And far behind me, the planet was barren. Ahead, I saw a narrow path.

I began to follow the path through a garden-like area, through vines and limbs that bore strange fruit. Apples that weren’t quite apples; oranges that weren’t exactly what oranges should be. I wondered what poison they might contain, and at what point I might be tempted to eat of this fruit.

Soon, the path narrowed, and I could make out a pulsating form in the distance. As I neared the glow, it became evident that the path’s sole purpose was to lead me to this place, because now, the path was fading away. I could not take my eyes off the glow; it was bright, but not so bright that I could not see. Then, I heard thoughts in my head.

“Captain John Wallace. It is good to see you. I have brought you here for our mutual benefit.”

This… entity …had called me by name. My first thought was that I had died in the meteor crash and this might be the afterlife. What other answer? So I spoke to this thing: “What is this? Are you…”

“I am not God. I simply brought you here when systems failed aboard your vessel.”

I continued my hypnotic gaze at the Entity. “For what purpose?”

“I do not want you to perish. I want to learn more about you. You are interesting.”

I paused for a moment. Before I could gather my thoughts to respond, the Entity spoke again.

“I have not been on this world long, yet I have sensed human thoughts since my arrival. You have a gathering nearby, and your people pilot interstellar vessels in this part of the galaxy. I accessed your ship’s computer to learn your language. I have not interfered in your affairs. However, your thoughts attracted me and I accessed your memories and found that I did not wish you to be harmed.”

“Can you return me to my base — to my gathering?”

No response.

I could feel in my heart — a disappointment, as though the Entity’s feelings could not be contained in its form alone. Its emotions hung in the very air. I considered a different response.

“Do you wish something from me in return for saving my life?”

The glow brightened just slightly. “Yes. But only if you offer it freely for I have no intention of causing you harm.”

“What can I possibly do for you?”

“You can grant me permission to enter your mind.”

That came as a shock to me. Why? Why would an alien intelligence tap into my very memories that were stored in a ship’s computer – and suddenly take an interest in me? I gathered my thoughts and answered.

“And you want me to give you willing access?”

“I can read your thoughts at will. But I have not entered your mind. If you allow me entry to your mind, I can learn what it means to be human. Your engrams are full of things such as memories, fantasies, hopes and dreams.”

“And if I refuse this free and open access?”

“Then I will send you home.”

I felt compassion for this being. It was as though it had no feelings or experiences of its own. I could not refuse to let it borrow mine. “I owe you for saving my life,” I said. “What do you wish me to do?”

Glowing slightly brighter again, the Entity said, “Earthmen grow physically as well as psychologically. This is new to me. I would like to experience your memories near to the beginning.”

“The beginning? You mean back when I was a child on Earth?”

“Captain Wallace,” it said. “Do you recall a Christmas parade?”

I smiled. The Entity had indeed reached deep inside me and provoked a faint memory of my childhood.

“A Christmas parade,” I repeated. “A big event for a kid.” I paused and my mind wandered.

In the Wallace family, the holiday season had always been important. We lived in a small town in the southwest that had continued the quaint tradition long after larger cities has moved to modern, techno-events.

The Entity was glowing. “Please continue,” it said. “You will not be harmed.”

I shrugged off that thought and proceeded. “My dad worked in a factory making replicators and life-support systems for starships. That factory is all that kept the town going. But it did put on one big event each year in early December. At my house, there was never a need for discussion. We always attended. I suppose they took me even when I was a baby. But there was one year that I’ll never forget. I was eight years old.”

“Get your coat, Johnny. The one with the hood. It’s near freezing outside. Here, take your gloves.”

“Okay, Mommy.”

Finally! It was time for the Christmas parade, and I couldn’t wait. Daddy had reserved three spaces on the transit line; Mommy was continuing to gather warm clothing just in case we needed extra wraps since we actually planned to stand outside in the weather – that’s what the tradition was all about.

It was magnificent. Most of the floats were holograms, but even in those days they were extremely lifelike and they had a heck of a sound system. When the reindeer passed, you heard them snorting – and you could even smell them! There were three marching bands – and one of them was actually real. But the holo-bands were nice, too. It was all so festive – just like the totally human Christmas parades my great-great-great grandfather must have witnessed on that very same street.

Now what else did Mommy and Daddy let me do that year? I remember now.

“Daddy, can I have some popcorn and cotton candy?”

Well, after all, the Christmas parade isn’t every day. I was allowed to purchase both from a street vendor – a real person who paced up and down the street prior to the start of the big event.

In the distance, I could hear the faint rhythm of beating drums. The excitement mounted, as the sounds grew nearer.

Mom had been holding my hand to make sure I was nearby, but soon Dad pried me loose and sat me on his shoulder. I felt so high in the sky — I could see the parade as it wiggled its way down Main Street.

First, a high school band. Then, an antique car with the mayor on board – that must have been real. Then, virtual horses. Lots of virtual horses. Soon, a long line of floats proceeded down Main Street — some with choirs singing carols. Sometimes, the crowd would join in and the words would be projected with lasers — right into the air.

We stayed until the entire parade had filtered by. Mom and Dad enjoyed the parade themselves, but wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Bringing up the rear, as always, was one last float bearing the Jolly Old Man himself flinging real candy to the kids in the crowd. Only kids up front got any, but that’s okay.

“Did you like it, Johnny?” Mom was asking as we boarded the trans.

“Sure,” I said enthusiastically.

Soon, we were on our way. Mom and Dad were still chatting about the parade. I felt very secure. Very happy.

I sensed a strong deja vu, and suddenly remembered where I was. “Wait a minute,” I exclaimed. I looked around, confused. I was still on an alien planet surrounded by weird vegetation and a shimmering alien intelligence. “Was I really there?” I asked. It had seemed so real.

“Reality is relative,” said the Entity. “Now I know the wonder of your Christmas parade.”

There was trace of something pinkish on my sleeve. Cotton candy? Of course not. And yet —

“Not all your memories are so pleasant, Captain Wallace,” the Entity continued. “I can read in your mind traces of fear. Fear of a place of termination.”

“Graveyards. You’re speaking of graveyards. But I don’t want to live it out. Please don’t…”

The Entity fell silent. It’s shimmering died down. I weakened.

“All right,” I said. “I’ll try to remember. When I was a child on Earth, and there was still vacant land, we used to bury our dead in strange places called graveyards. Many of them still exist even to this day. A graveyard can be a scary place to a kid.”

“Go on Johnny. Get out of the car.”

I knew I had to obey my mother, but I wasn’t anxious to look at my grandfather’s grave quite so soon. It had only been a month after the funeral, and I had tried so hard to forget. It was my first experience with death.

“I still can’t believe it,” I could hear my father saying. I was gazing, first at the fresh grave, then away, as I tried to keep my mind on other things. But in a cemetery, one’s mind can never be far from the people who dwell below. I looked at the fresh dirt on Grandfather’s grave, the sign of new death. I looked at the vacant space beside him awaiting Grandmother, the sign of death to come.

And then, I looked around me at the hundreds of stones and markers. Death. Death. Death.

I was already in school and I was a good reader. I began to wander while Mom and Dad pondered over Grandfather’s grave; and I began to read. Joshua Hogan. Born 1891. Died 1934. Amanda, wife of Joshua. Born 1893. Died 1942.

“Don’t go too far away, Johnny.” I barely heard the words. Thomas Gentry. Mary, wife of Thomas. And so on and on.

My mind was full of markers, monuments, memories, and maybes. What-ifs. Didn’t every one of these dead people have a story to tell? Didn’t they each and every one have a life to live? A life they fought to keep? But they all lost. Their being here proved that they had lost. They’re in a better world, I reasoned – that’s what I had been taught. But their earthly battle to live! — that, they had lost.

I thought a lot about the Bible. I believed the Bible. I believed that some day the righteous of the world would rise — even from their graves. In the distance, the figures of my mother and father grew dim, and I began to hear strange noises. I saw pieces of the earth begin to tremble. And I trembled too.

While it happened, I kept thinking, these are the righteous. They won’t hurt me. All they want is to reunite with their loved ones and continue their lives where they left off. I could see skeletal fingers emerging. Was I dreaming?

I began to walk — slowly at first, then briskly. All over, hands were protruding from the ground. Hands and arms, all reaching out. I was afraid. What would their faces be like?

I turned toward Grandfather’s grave. Mom and Dad were screaming out my name. I could hear footsteps from behind, but I couldn’t turn to look. I didn’t think they’d hurt me, but still —

I closed my eyes and ran into the waiting arms of —

Grandfather!

“Johnny, Johnny. It’s all right,” he said. “I’ve come back. We’ve all come back. Death is conquered.”

Mom and Dad were clinging to each other silently. They were looking at something behind me. Slowly, I turned to see for myself.

The corpses were dancing.

The tears running down my cheeks splashed on the ground in the presence of the Entity. I looked at it, not knowing what to say. Again, it had been so real that I trembled. I was so emotionally drained that I felt as if I might collapse. Instead, I sat on the ground and buried my head in my hands.

It spoke again. “Captain Wallace?” it asked. “Is this what you call a nightmare?”

“How much longer,” I asked, “before I can go?”

“You are not being detained,” replied the Entity. “You have no means of transportation. I will help you. But still, I wish to know more.”

I was growing weary. Reliving a Christmas parade was not at all unpleasant. But the cemetery scene was too much to bear. I was beginning to worry that the Entity might have some dark and evil motive for all this that I could only guess at. What would it ask about this time?

For a while, the Entity said nothing. It did nothing; it simply was. I turned around and gazed at this planet. The landscape seemed to shimmer and I wondered if any of it was real. After all, if this strange being could make me relive past memories, could it not create the illusion of plants and other growing things? I found myself puzzled about many things. I could not get fantasies out of my mind and I began to worry about losing track of the real and the unreal. If I was to be put through more of this…

“Captain Wallace.”

I turned.

It said, “Why are you alone? Does not your species mate in pairs?”

“No!” I screamed. “You’ve looked inside my head again. But I’m not going to relive Katherine for you! I’m Not!” All the time, I knew that I was.

The Entity did not reply, but its glow dimmed. I had learned that to be a sign of disappointment. This being had saved my life. Or had it caused the accident? I didn’t know. But I was, at least, still alive.

“I’m tired,” I said. “Perhaps I could sleep, and then…”

The Entity glowed brighter, obviously pleased with my spirit of compromise.

I was already tired, but suddenly, I felt my eyelids getting heavier. Apparently, the Entity had the power to hasten my sleep. I sank to the ground and found it to be soft and comfortable. It accepted my body as if I had fallen into a mold. I slept soundly.

A moment later, Katherine nudged me, and I awoke.

“Honey, get up. Your breakfast will be cold. How can you sleep on our last day together?”

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” I yawned. “What a strange couple we are. You go to bed at nine and get up at four. I stay up till midnight and sleep till seven.”

“But we’re in love, so who cares?” She smiled the mischievous smile that had made me want to marry her in the first place.

I dressed quickly and made my way to the breakfast table. Outside an open window, a robin was drinking from a birdbath; there was misty dew on the grass; there were buds on the trees.

“It’s hard to be happy and sad at the same time,” she said. “We’re still just newlyweds — less than a year. And tomorrow, you leave for a two year run-around-the-galaxy.”

I felt guilty. “It’s hard to leave you, Sweetheart. But this was all set before we got married.”

“I know. And you tried to talk me out of it, but I wouldn’t hear of it. I love you, John Wallace, and if something happens to you out there in space, I’ll still have this past year.”

“What can happen? I’ve spent years in training, and now I’m going to serve on a galaxy-class starship. In two years, I’ll be back. You’ll be here, won’t you?”

She paused and looked just a bit guilty.

“Won’t you?”

“I’ve enrolled,” she said somberly, “in the Space Force training corps.” I looked startled, and she continued before I could speak. “…not to become a starship commander, Honey. I want to be certified to fly some missions. You know, maybe work as a nurse in sickbay. Then, I could get assigned to your ship.”

“Katherine, I don’t believe this. I thought you wanted to stay earthside and have a family.”

“John, you’ll never come back. I’ll never see you again, and there won’t be any children. I’m going to find a way to come to you.”

“But regulations.”

“Married couples can serve together in the Space Force. You know that. Don’t you want me out there with you?” Her eyes were tearing up.

“You know I do.”

I held her for a while until her eyes cleared up, and then I assured her time and time again that I supported what she was trying to do. That night, we found an exclusive café and had a candlelight dinner together. She stayed up with me very late that night, and the next morning, I left to begin my assignment.

I had been serving ten months on board the starship Europa when the news came via subspace radio: Katherine had been killed in a training exercise. I never went back to Earth. I remained in the Force for life, eventually earning a command of my own. I became married to my career, but I never got over her. I thought about Katherine each night and day.

Suddenly, I became cognizant of the shimmering Entity before me. Once more, I had been taken in by a space being who had the ability to enter my dreams. I flushed with emotions ranging from bitterness to anger to nostalgia. It had seemed even more real than the others. I had held Katherine in my arms once again; I had lived our last night together all over again. And now I had lost her again.

Trying to shake off the effects of the fantasy-laden sleep, I looked away from the Entity expecting to see the pseudo-vegetation that made up this alien landscape. But it had changed. I saw an Earth street with Earth houses. Or did I?

Some of the houses had only three sides. Some had no roofs. A three-legged dog walked by without missing a step. I strolled over to one of the houses. The doorknob felt rubbery, but it worked and I looked inside. No walls; no furnishings.

Returning to the Entity, I asked, “More illusions? Are you taunting me?”

Its glow lessened. “Try as I may, Captain, I cannot seem to get all the details. This is what Earth seems like to me. I am…creating for you.”

I mouthed the words. Creating for me? “But why are you doing this? What are you?”

“I am a survivor, Captain much like you. My universe used to co-exist with yours. But while your universe is expanding, mine was collapsing. As our sphere of existence grew smaller and smaller, rips appeared in the very fabric of time and space. I escaped into this plane. I am the only one remaining of my race. For millennia, I have observed and explored. I don’t belong here. I am alone. But I have made a discovery. I have found humans. I have found you. Your thought patterns are like mine. Isolation. Despair. Longing.”

I was beginning to understand it. I thought I had lost all when Katherine died. But this creature — this pitiful creature — really had lost all. Right down to its very plane of existence.

“I have learned enough,” it said, “to join you.” Its shimmering grew brighter, and a metamorphosis began. It was too bright to watch, and so I closed my eyes. And when I could see again — Katherine stood before me. It was Katherine, for sure. Fetchingly beautiful — but not quite right.

“Katherine,” I whispered. “Are you…”

Before I could finish the question, a familiar thought pattern erupted in my brain — that of the Entity. “I can become her, with your help,” it said without moving its lips.

It — Katherine — whatever it had become – approached me slowly and I began to see flaws. The hair color wasn’t quite right; a scar was misplaced; an earlobe was wrong. Fighting back tears, I began to explain the discrepancies. Each one was corrected according to my specifications. It wasn’t Katherine, but it was getting close.

As the hours and days went by, the Entity, now Katherine, learned to speak with vocal cords rather than through telepathy. She began to use a wider vocabulary. And though her alien powers never subsided, she began to develop Katherine’s personality working from my instructions and from my subconscious memories. I began to think of her as the real Katherine.

We passed the time making corrections on this alien world. The houses now had roofs and walls and were fully furnished inside. Dogs ran on four legs and frogs croaked and sunned on perfectly formed lily pads. Sometimes, it rained. Together, Katherine and I had created an earthscape with near-perfect vegetation and animal life. But we were the only two people.

At last I asked the question which had been in my mind since the beginning. “You can do anything, it seems, but — do you have limits? What’s the source of your power?”

She smiled. “You don’t have to believe me, John, but I’m really not sure. I changed when I entered this universe. I could do things that I never could do in my world. Here, I became a creature of limitless energy, and only gradually did I learn how to use the power.”

“I’m happy with you here. But I must admit that I am lonely for more people. Do you have the power to create them like you did the animals?”

She looked at me longingly, and shook her head. “I don’t think so. The dogs, the cats, the frogs — they’re not real. They have no internal organs. They have no personalities. I made them out of your memories. I couldn’t create a real human being.”

I couldn’t conceal my disappointment. “What would it take, Katherine? Look at yourself. Look what you did. Why can’t you do it again?”

“I was a living being before I created this body. I had a life force and I had you to help me create. Perhaps if I had samples…tissue…or bone…I have only your DNA and I need more to work with.”

“Then let’s go to Earth.”

“Earth? You want to go back to Earth?”

“Not to stay, Katherine. Just to help you learn. To find the samples you need. Then, we’ll come back here and finish building this planet.”

And so we did go to Earth. When we returned to this planet, we named it Threa, meaning a slightly different Earth. We don’t age here. I’ve been 35 years old now for about as long as I can remember. We have no crime, no sickness, no poverty or hunger. The folks we brought back from the cemetery are very pleased to be living on Threa.

Katherine and I are very happy.

Today, it was December, and we had a Christmas parade.

THE END

(c) 2014 by Lynn Woolley.  All rights reserved.

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Comments

  1. VerbosePhil says:

    Great story Lynn – took me back. I used to devour SF stories when I was younger. Clarke, Heinlein, etc. I like the neat package you created and that you were able to weave everything needed in to capture such an ethereal milieu. Made me think of my ultimate destiny!

    ‘Life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory’.

    ‘Live long and prosper’.

  2. paintedfaces says:

    I forgot to title the above—When I was a child on earth. 🙂

  3. paintedfaces says:

    Very interesting and deep—

    Could nearly make someone relive their own memories from childhood. The cemetery’s especially.

    I was brought up in cemetery’s 🙂 We always were visiting them to show respect at our own relatives graves, and then would walk through to visit others,
    There have been some magnificent monuments placed in memory of loved ones.
    One of the most memorable was a little boy in Texas ,whose family had his marbles placed into his stone, and then an Egyptian Major in my home area, who died while assigned to the U.S. Military, His wife had his monument inscribed with a verse from Splendor in the Grass. She must have loved him very much.

    So use to being around cemetery’s, grave stones and the burial sites of family members and others.
    I found myself very unset, when a relative decided to bury one of my older brothers by having them cremated, without having a place in a cemetery nor a gravestone.
    I believe in the after life, and I wonder at times, where is my brother, there is no grave site to visit which gives a person the chance to continue to communicate with them by only using their mind.

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