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by George LoBuono
Category: Science Fiction/Mainstream
Description: Alien Fringe is a fantastic collection of stories: a novella about contact with aliens, plus stories about backpackers who tempt death in Asia, a dark-skinned beauty in a Java massage parlor, a redwood tree planter who has mystic insights high up on a wintery mountain, a tale of women's revenge, and more.
eBook Publisher: SynergEbooks, 2002 SynergEbooks
eBookwise Release Date: May 2008
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [332 KB]
Reading time: 210-295 min.
Daniel talks with the usual male firmness. He apprehends a subject, reduces it to terms that he can grasp more immediately. Sometimes too quickly for a psychologist, yet sharply for a man with his kind of caseload.
"I haven't seen much of that in my reading," he says.
"They live in other worlds," his partner Michael says. "It's not what they might appear to be externally. It's what they think they are."
Daniel nods. "Of course, of course." The two men share a practice.
"It's the larger parameter of mind, the fineness that connects it all. They fantasize the grandiose in order to feel as if they belong, in order to preserve their basic identity."
"I know where you're coming from."
"Do you really? Then why do you cut them off in group all the time?"
"To keep them clear and focused, obviously. They have to be with us. We have plenty of time to go into details privately. I thought we agreed on this."
"Did we? Then what are they feeling, what are they really feeling when they elaborate on so grand a scale?"
"I don't know, Michael. What are they feeling?" Daniel says, leaning back in his chair. The wall behind him is lined with photos he's taken--vast landscapes of cloud and stone, abandoned buildings.
"An integrated sense of being, however distorted. If they can't interact to get the attention, the intimacy they've had since childhood, they feel like they've been wronged. When their finest sensitivities have been ignored or sheltered too far inward, they seek greater justification ... on the grandest scale, if necessary. It's a creative process; strange, yet vital in ways. There's a prescience within the condition, an extra sensitivity that you and I may be missing." As soon as Michael says it, he knows it's too much. Daniel wants to raft them out of turmoil, make them feel comfortable within a more predictable order. Family and friends, a role within the community.
Michael wants to open up with Daniel, tell him what he's been seeing. Things so much different ... but Daniel is a business partner. He starts in on it at times, yet always stops. No point in the same old arguments.
They work in separate rooms in an old house in Noe Valley, a hillside village within San Francisco. Michael consults upstairs in a room with black leather couches and Indian rugs, a view of old wooden houses sloping up to Twin Peaks. It's beautiful when clouds float by, low and tinged with the pale colors of sea mist, almost dreamlike at twilight. Sometimes he just sits and looks out the window, thinking.
Driving up Clipper Street toward home further up the hillside, his car is hot, thick with fumes and the smell of vinyl baking. Too much to do, groceries to get, association fees to pay. Then home, with a view of ivy climbing up into trees.
I live like a goddamned rat. This place is too small. It's not [8#*@] There it is again! Always like that. They say so much more in so much less time. Something about how he lives richly, while others suffer. He imagines how he might describe it to Daniel. "I know this sounds strange, but you know me. I have to be honest ... I hear voices."
"Oh.... What kind of voices?" Daniel's eyes widen, deadpan to hide his thinking.
"Actually, they're not really voices. I don't really hear them; I sense them in my mind."
If Daniel had said that to him a few years earlier, he would have thought they were in trouble as a partnership. Michael thought of various ways to tell him. Psi trails, telepathy; the paranormal. All of it non-normal to Daniel. It was sad not to relate his observations because Daniel had a good mind. He listened well, attentive to details, the sentience of being. He'd studied under good people, but he was so ... reductive. After a while Michael gave up, yet the communications continued. He'd even become friendly with them. They seemed to be at least as bright as he is, if not smarter.
He walks out and up the rise through dark pines above thick ivy, elevated condos with glass walls facing the inner gardens, an honesty in transparency. At the pool, he finds a chair for his things, then stands for five minutes dipping his toes into the water. Two women are already in, one with large dark eyes, her hair pinned up in back--an intelligent kind of beauty. She's a resident, but they've never spoken. The other has her back to him. Such smooth skin, such fine shoulders. He slips in; the water's cold. He finds the jet where warm water comes out, and clings there. The other woman turns around slowly.
There's something about her nose; her jaw is smaller, more tightly muscled than usual. A trait almost masculine; he's not sure. Her eyes have a depth, a coldness he can't access. She seems to be staring at him out of the corner of her eye. Almost masculine ... not at all [8#*@] Something about women, about non-gender; all said too fast, like the envelope of someone else's thought coming through her--sensed within. She turns and glares at him coldly.
He slips into the water and does several laps with goggles on. Nine, then ten. He pauses, just a warm-up. The dark-eyed woman is also swimming back and forth. After a minute of rest, he shoves off and tries to outpace her. For him the crawl-stroke is the lead weight of labor, increasingly heavy with each stroke, yet she swims ahead faster, almost effortlessly.
He turns to watch her movements as he goes. Now she seems more beautiful, her ... inaccessibility. She [8#*@] Again, more said than he can put into immediate terms, a communication on multiple levels. Up for air, he lowers his eyes to surface level, goggles half-immersed. Something strange happens at the surface: it's the physics of a reflective membrane. He remembers reading about how radio waves go faster than light, sideways, when they bounce off of the upper atmosphere. Back under, he swims like a fish, slow and quiet, but bored silly.
He goes home and makes dinner with a spot of wine, but it, too, seems strangely biological. A laboratory smell he rarely notices. He can't drink it. He turns on the TV, then tries to read a book. Nothing in either. Nothing he does for the rest of the night is enough for him. His rooms have no ceilings, only an overstructure that steeps eight feet up above the walls toward the rear wall of glass that looks down onto a slope of ivy. A dim amber light seeps in through the darkness.
He wakes up in the morning slowly. It's not the numbness of being conscious yet unable to move, but similar: not wanting to waken. His dream life is better than waking. Then, as he's sitting in his kitchen eating breakfast with the drapes closed, he remembers. Something in the face of the woman who'd glared at him. It was the face of another, a male in fact. Not real, but posed somehow, as if projected so that the rendering was only clear within the memory.
"Michael?" It's Chris on the phone.
"Yeah ... moving slow today."
"Still wanna go jogging?"
"Sure. I've got a slight headache, but I'll take something and meet you on the cliff at ten-thirty."
The trail where they run is seaside wilderness looking out across the ocean to the Marin hills, rolling northward. Chris is excited about extra state money for the school where he teaches.
"It might make a difference," he says, running slightly ahead. He cuts the straightest line around corners.
"Ahh, it's not the money. It's the whole idea of education." Michael eyes the beaches 200 feet down the hillside, imagining which little trail he'd take down through twisted brush and boulders if he were alone.
"You can't spend three percent more to reduce class size and come anywhere near undoing the damage done by the violence they see on TV. They go home and shoot people in computer games. They dismember beings of higher intelligence."
"You're wrong, Michael." Chris paces his words, as he runs. "Classes of 34 children ... aren't an education. They're an indoctrination. We're trying to produce little copies of ourselves. It's an industrial approach." Chris' dark Korean eyes narrow. "Before ... we were agrarian serfs, made useful through the denial of knowledge. Now we're industrial slaves. We train them to follow instructions. We don't challenge them to think; we use 'em." They're both silent for a while.
The trail narrows to where they can't run abreast. It curves downward into flowering anise, through crowberry and bent cypress. Michael pulls his arms up to avoid stickers, then peels off his sweatshirt and ties it around his waist as they rise up into a clearing of golden yarrow and beach pea. They slow to a walk. Up ahead a woman climbs wooden stairs in the dirt, where the trail peaks with a view clear across the city toward Angel Island.
The thick aromas of sea and pine dull aching lungs as they walk. Something tells Michael he left the stove on at home. So, in his mind he walks through each step he took on the way out, but he can't remember. The house could burn down. But no, it would only heat the room and turn the vent on.
The torso of the woman up ahead sinks beneath the rise at a beautiful angle, the wind fanning her dark hair out sideways against a view clear across the city to the faded slopes of Mt. Diablo. Her jogging top is sleeveless. Like a Roman girding of leather [8#*@] Something about women and greed this time, then a flash of a Max Ernst canvas. He'd seen it at an exposition, but it wasn't his memory. It was someone else's. Then again, [8#*@] This time more vividly and with a definite vocal timbre, slightly bubbly-sounding. Before his next footfall, it passes right through him, each word, each impression exacted as if containing the whole of the depth before him, yet somehow, in some inexplicable way, traveling backward in time. More than he could ever do, then, finally, a note as if of a hollow: the image of a sun fading across the whole of the ocean behind him, yet tucked exactly, dimensioned precisely into the preceding. Not of this earth! No one here is that smart.
Michael is a scientist, yet there's no way to explain it. Still, he has to. He walks on, oblivious to the panorama of surf and cliffs before him. He's an atheist who doesn't believe in an external, masculine deity. No sudden schmalinka by a human-like hand, nothing supernatural. So then, what is it? It has to be--it could only be--extraterrestrial. But the idea is too much to absorb all at once. The mind works in different ways. Sudden percipience doesn't sink in until larger reference is made. He works through such things incrementally.
As he measures the pace of his steps up the small rise, it occurs to him that he's always been skeptical. The last one to fall for such notions. He usually thinks of it as a balm for the uneducated, a short-cut kind of wish fulfillment only realized in hallucinations. Then again, there are tens of billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars ... The possibilities are enormous. The main obstacle would be the human presumption to be the greatest of all, when, in fact, others could predate us by as much as a billion years. A billion years ago we were much more humble--tiny multi-celled swimmers with a node, not a brain. Some extraterrestrials could be that much different. Categorically more advanced. He decides to be more careful, more reserved and observant.
At the end of the trail they stand above China Beach, a small cove where people lie out in the sand between grayish brown cliffs. They watch a freighter that looks like a giant lunchbox pick up speed as it heads out through stiff whitecaps toward Asia. So oddly square, so flatly functional. He decides to wait there, shirtless in the sun, while Chris jogs back to get the car to pick him up later.
They stop in a small Russian I owned by a Palestinian who employs only Irish women. It's a mostly white neighborhood that's fast-becoming Chinese. Chris flirts with the 20 year-old behind the counter.
"I could be her father," he says when he sits.
Michael asks what Chris thinks about the idea of extraterrestrials.
"I used to think it was all a bunch of shit, frankly. But then I read a book by an Army colonel who was on Eisenhower's national security staff. He handled the foreign technology desk for the Army later." Chris' eyes narrow. "He says aliens actually crashed at Roswell." Chris studies Michael for signs of doubt. "He says the military tracked it on the way down and then pounced on it before anyone else could get to it. One alien survived and was trying to run away, but was shot by fuck-up soldiers before an officer could stop them. The colonel says he saw alien bodies preserved in glass containers. And that he worked on an Army project to distribute parts of the wreckage to U.S. companies that reverse-engineered them to develop the laser, fiber optics, microcircuitry, and uh ... What was it?" He pauses. "Oh yeah, it was Kevlar, the bullet-proof fiber. But why'd you ask me?"
"Something in the paper..." Michael says, lost in thought. "Why do you think they're coming out with all of this now?"
"People know more than before, I guess."
It seems strange to Michael. Ten years earlier he would never have had such a conversation. The talk turns to a friend who's pregnant and how having a baby might change her. Chris has two children of his own, the cutest little things. Chris goes home to eat, leaving Michael alone to read scattered newspapers.
Michael drives through Golden Gate Park, then over the hill toward home, thinking. The streets are jammed with weekend traffic; the stoplights are nauseating. If people could only see what they're breathing. If the exhaust came out dark green and lingered, grotesque and thick, they wouldn't buy such vehicles. They'd have a completely different technology. Chris was right about industry. People knew they could do better, but they were caught in a vicious cycle. The worst of the old regime dragged their feet in order to tilt production to their advantage, however destructive that might be. Market forces determined the weapons economy, which sowed destruction among the poorest and most vulnerable of the world, leaving them all the more vulnerable to foreign scavengers who flocked in to grab up cheap landholdings.
Strangely pretentious hacks with money raked in from 19th century scams had banded together with the most vulgar of the nouveau riche to form a criminal substructure that hectored everyone else who did business in North America. The most corrupt among them stooped the lowest; they'd even been fond of the Nazis. They'd used a network of mob types to do corruptions work across the country until RICO laws crippled the old mob structure. They were said to have "owned" J. Edgar Hoover, and they were first to help launder heroin money, then court the favor of banks where cocaine money was counted later.
Trolls beneath "the bridge to the 21st century." It was appalling. People were angry, yet intimidated at the same time. Something had to give eventually. Meanwhile, the U.S. government was the world's biggest cash cow; the place where some of the world's greediest scam artists stopped to drink deeply, only to turn around and deride big government as the enemy when it was the protection of state and the people's tax money that they lusted for more than anything. They, more than anyone, were fed by the hand of an increasingly Byzantine and compromised government. And what made it all possible? It was infantile citizenship. Paternalistic pabulum at election time. Feel good politics.