Mrs. Selby Takes a Lover From Another Galaxy
by Kevin James Miller
Mrs. Selby met T'uh-zar at the 110th Annual Thornton, Indiana Flower Show, held in the college gymnasium's parking lot. She heard a male voice say something clinical but poetic about grandiflora roses. She turned from the Shasta daisies toward the source of the voice. He looked like an approximately fifty-year-old male with distinguished gray hair, a white turtleneck, and a black suit coat. She noticed that as he moved from exhibit to exhibit and chatted with this and that person his long thin body moved with almost liquid grace. Mrs. Selby realized she must be blushing.
Mrs. Selby hadn't thought about any man's body since Ted's death. Before she knew what she was doing, she had walked right up to him.
"You seem very observant about flowers."
"Do I?" he asked.
"I heard what you said about the grandiflora roses," Mrs. Selby said.
"I'm an amateur appreciating the work of professionals," the man said.
"That's very kind of you, but nobody competing today raises or breeds flowers for a living," she said.
"Oh. Do you do something in, uh, competition?"
Mrs. Selby said, "I've bred hybrid rugosa and miniature roses together."
"Yes," she said. "That isn't always what wins."
They exchanged polite smiles. "My name is Gail Selby," she finally said.
He gave her a firm but tender handshake. "T'uh-zar."
"Oh. Are you from overseas?"
"I guess that's a word for it."
"Oh, I'd rather not say, if you don't mind. It's one of those spots with many problems. I'm just glad to be in a less troubled place."
Mrs. Selby said, "We have the same amount of trouble here that everybody gets."
Mrs. Selby didn't win any prizes at the flower show. Afterwards, the two of them ended up having coffee together in a little place a few minutes away from the park down the street. Mrs. Selby told T'uh-zar something about being a widowed middle-aged lady astronomy professor in a small college town.
Mrs. Selby, like many people, had been laboring over how much she should be thinking about two current events; the Flaming Sword of the American Christ Militia had almost succeeded in making a hydrogen bomb in a cabin in Colorado; the Eternal Jihad had killed half the attendants at a convention of security consultants in New York City with an exotic new bio-weapon. Here, Mrs. Selby thought, in the Midwest, or anywhere else, civility and friendship were defenses no one should neglect.
He listened so well, with such observant attention and interest, Mrs. Selby didn't notice how little he said about himself -- other than he often found it necessary to travel.
Three days later, they were having a late dinner in a little cafe on campus run by the students. "I'm from another planet, Gail," T'uh-zar said.
She smiled. "Yes, I know. Men are from Mars, blah blah blah."
"No. Not Mars. A different galaxy."
She smiled gently. "You look human enough to me, but if you want to say you're from another galaxy, I won't argue."
"I've been altered. I can't go around looking the way I do back home. It would spoil my mission." He paused. "You don't believe me, of course."
She gently touched his hand. "No, but you're still lovely company."
T'uh-zar said, "Could I look through your purse for a moment?"
Mrs. Selby shrugged and handed it over. If it was going to be a harmless game, like pretending he was from another planet, she would give him the purse.
He found nail clippers, and handed back her purse. "Thank you." He carefully trimmed off the top portion of his left thumb nail, and then carefully wrapped it in a clean napkin. "Check that. See if it comes from an Earth male."
Mrs. Selby, although an astronomy professor, had some background in biology, as she had some background in botany. She had toyed with the idea of becoming a biologist until meeting her late husband, Ted Selby, in undergraduate school. She didn't feel that much commitment to biology or botany in the first place, and if a man as warm and as smart as Ted Selby was going to be a professional astronomer then that was the field for her. Using a microscope in a college lab, she looked at a cell structure that was clearly not human, nor even terrestrial.
When T'uh-zar arrived at her home to walk Mrs. Selby over to a local production of Mozart's The Magic Flute she was on her doorstep, looking at the ground. He stood in front of her. "Gail?"
She raised her head and looked at him. "Who are you? What are you?"
"I'm someone from another galaxy."
"Why are you -- What do you --?" She couldn't finish.
He sat next to her. "What do you want to ask me?"
"Don't you know? Maybe you can read minds."
"Not any Earth mind."
"What do you want?"
"You'll find out, when the time is right."
That was the end of that type of conversation for them, at least for the next few weeks. Peripheral issues would sometimes come up between them. Where did he live, when he wasn't spending time with her? What did he do for money? Did anybody on Earth know who -- what -- he was? At dinner, or at a museum, or play, he would decline to answer -- or make a harmless joke. Mrs. Selby was beginning to form, in her brain, what amounted to a blasphemy in the modern American age: A successful romantic relationship did not require complete honesty.
The turning point came when she was working late in the observatory on the hill at the edge of town. She was examining over a thousand digital photographs the college's telescope had taken of the Andromeda, Virgo A, and Centaurus A galaxies over the last ten months.
She thought she noticed something. However, she knew it was impossible. Wasn't it?
She took a nap (it was past three a.m.). Mrs. Selby then woke up and went to the bathroom. Mrs. Selby came back to the building's main room and had a cup of coffee and a sandwich. The lady scientist looked at the photographs again, and closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
Impossible. It had to be.
She opened her eyes and made a decision. She sent, over the Internet, copies of the photographs to professional colleagues in Europe, Asia, South America, and Australia. Then, finally, she went home and slept.
When she woke up, she had a class to teach at eleven a.m. She went to her home office PC, got on-line briefly, and checked to see if she had any e-mail replies from her international colleagues. This was a typical message:
AGREE THAT THERE IS SOMETHING ODD HERE BUT CAN'T TELL WHAT. HAVE YOU NOTICED SOMETHING THE REST OF US HAVEN'T?
After teaching the eleven a.m. class, she hurried back over to the observatory before meeting T'uh-zar for lunch. She usually liked to walk to the observatory, but today she took her car. She found a man in a U.S. Army uniform standing outside the door of Thornton College's observatory. The door now had a thick, heavy chain and padlock on it. "What is this? What's going on?" Mrs. Selby demanded, coming out of her car.
"Are you Professor Gail Selby?"
"Yes! And who the hell are you?"
"Professor Selby, my name is Colonel Morgan." He showed her an official-looking ID card in a gray plastic wallet. "I'm afraid we're going to have to impound this building, and its contents, for reasons relating to national security."
"By -- what -- authority?" Mrs. Selby was so angry she could barely talk.
"Presidential Executive Order 208919-85-12-0."
"Oh for the love of -- "
"Your government has no intention of making people like the Sword and the Jihad comfortable."
Mrs. Selby gave a rushed version of what had happened to T'uh-zar at lunch. He followed her to the office of the college president, who was already on the phone to the school's legal counsel. And no, there was nothing the college could do about what the government had done.
Mrs. Selby and T'uh-zar went to John von Neumann Hall, the dormitory where most of Thornton College's science students resided. Mrs. Selby asked two young men, kissing on the dormitory lawn under a poster advertising a music concert to be performed over the Internet, if Jesse was around.
Jesse's father was from Colorado, and his mother from Chicago, but he had told Mrs. Selby one time that the maps of Europe and Africa he kept on his wall were a more accurate reflection of what his bi-racial parentage meant. Mrs. Selby explained what was happening and what she wanted. T'uh-zar watched and listened. Jesse said, "Yeah. I saw that Army guy around campus. He's not talking to anybody, so I can't find out anything using long-range audio surveillance. A military guy won't use e-mail. Too hard to get a secure line. One of the college's phone lines? Forget it. Half a dozen U.S. agencies do random national surveillance interceptions. Odds are any two parts of our government don't talk to or even like each other. I haven't seen him with a cell phone, but he's probably using one on a scrambled line."
Jesse stood a cell phone on his desk. With wires, he attached it to a miniature satellite dish, a laptop computer, and a metal box with dials and switches.
They all waited.
After about an hour Jesse said, "Got something. It's a cell call, but unlike the other ten in the past hour, this is being carried on a scrambled signal." Jesse carefully worked the dials on the metal box. "I think this is it."
There must have been a speaker in the metal box because the sound of static came from the clutter on Jesse's desk, static which faded into the sound of Colonel Morgan's voice: "A global panic? With respect, sir, you're not understanding the nature of a truly frightening secret. Control what, when, and how the world finds out about it, and it's a wonderful instrument of power."
Eventually, Mrs. Selby and T'uh-zar ended up in the park, on the bench. "T'uh-zar, do you know what this is about? What . . . What I think I found out?"
"What exactly is that?" He didn't look at her.
"In the farthest reaches of the universe that telescopes on Earth can see, stars are starting to slowly disappear. Nobody out walking the dog is going to glance up and see this. Hell, it took me months to begin to notice." She paused. "And there's no evidence of stars ending their life cycles in a nova, black hole, or any other of the known terminal stellar states of existence. And this doesn't fit the Big Bang reversing into the Big Crunch hypothesis either. If that's what was going on the stars would be rushing together and, I believe, there would be some evidence of time running in reverse. But none of that is true. I remember an old science fiction story where a group of monks caused something like this to happen by getting a computer to spit out all the possible names of God. I don't think that's what's going on here." She slapped her forehead. "Oh great. Now I'm starting to babble about science fiction I read when I was a teenager." She found the courage to ask another important question. "T'uh-zar, this is why you're here, isn't it? You didn't just come to this planet to find someone like me."
He looked at her, stood, took a step or two away, looked up at the sky, and turned back to her. "Gail, why I came here and finding someone like you . . . Well, those two issues aren't mutually exclusive. And yes, I've known all along about what you have discovered."
She said, "I hate to sound melodramatic, but is the universe doomed? Are you, and maybe your whole species, out for a ride around the block before the whole cosmos shuts down?"
"No. The universe is not doomed. I'm going to play a part in saving it. Either here -- or on another planet."
"T'uh-zar, you're going to have to connect the dots for me."
He took in the afternoon sun with a gesture. "Gail, in the strictest scientific sense, what sort of energy does the sun put out? Or any other star? Besides heat, the obvious answer?"
She nodded. "Non-random, electrical signals."
"And a brain?"
"Non-random, electrical -- Wait a minute. What are you trying to tell me?"
He sat next to her again. "Do you love me?"
"You're changing the subject."
"No. Not at all. If you want to help me save our universe, I have to convince you how much I just didn't change the subject."
She cupped a hand under his chin and looked into his golden eyes. "Tell me. Tell me everything. I do love you, but I have to know the whole truth."
He took her hand and laid it on his lap. "As your planet counts time, for ten billion years, my kind has traveled the cosmos."
"That would make you and your . . . type . . . almost as old as the universe," Mrs. Selby said.
"Each of us mates only once, every ten thousand years," T'uh-zar went on. "When we do we are . . . transformed."
"Transformed how?" Mrs. Selby said.
He hesitated. "We become what you see through your telescope every night, Gail: stars, solar systems, sometimes whole galaxies."
"That's absurd!" She stood and glared at him.
"Am I lying?"
They looked at each other. He had said the most impossible thing any man had ever told her. Standing there, thinking everything over, she realized for some reason she believed him. Why? Because he wasn't really a man? Because he wasn't from Earth? Was that it? "No. You aren't lying." She sat. "But it's so sad. You and your kind, you make love and then you die."
"No, Gail. We change but we don't die. All of us, even the ones who have made the change, continue to talk to each other." He tapped his forehead. "My brothers and sisters have told me about the amazing worlds that they are near -- or even worlds that now make up part of their physical beings."
"What sort of worlds?"
"There is a planet in the universe where the inhabitants, as you measure time, spend millions of years waging endless war on each other. One day, the last surviving inhabitant makes a statue that covers most of the globe and scrapes the heavens, and is so beautiful the rumor is that it makes God cry. Then the sole survivor gives birth to the entire next generation. They make the statue into weapons and the cycle begins again. On another planet the inhabitants hear, smell, touch -- but are completely blind. And then, one day, at random it seems, one of this world's inhabitants can see, only for a few seconds. But he . . . or she . . . I'm not sure which . . . spends thousands of years describing what he saw to the other inhabitants of that world. On yet another planet, there is only one living being. He spends millions of years crawling from the center of the southern hemisphere. His destination is a small cave in the center of the northern hemisphere. Over the entrance of the cave is a single word, but written in a language nobody in the universe speaks anymore."
"What happens when this creature gets to the cave?"
"You want me to be part of this -- this transformation?"
"If that's your choice. If it's not, I'll leave this world and look for another being to cross over with me."
"Isn't a couple transforming like this going to cause damage? If a lover changes into a sun . . . "
"The evolution my species has gone through has provided for this. During the consummation, a short cut opens in the fabric of space-time and the universe takes the couple to their new home."
For a moment, they were both quiet.
Mrs. Selby said, "I was the wife of a wonderful man for more than twenty years; I have taught even longer than that, convincing hundreds of young people to join the scientific discipline that I love. I've met colleagues all over the world from whom I have learned. And now I have a chance to save the cosmos with a charmer from another galaxy. Wanting any more than that would be selfish."
He got to her house shortly after nightfall. Without a word, they walked hand in hand upstairs to her bedroom.
Sitting on the bed, they kissed. T'uh-zar still, at this point, looked and felt like an ordinary man, like a being from Earth. But the smell was wrong. For Mrs. Selby, a serious physical attraction to any man always went hand-in-hand with an awareness of the male smell. Every man had it, despite age, money, race, or any other factor. It was a sort of tangy saltiness, an earthy odor that came out of an intangible patch of imaginary ground a trillion times older than any piece of real geography.
And it was missing in T'uh-zar. There were, instead, the components of a smell that didn't match up. In her nose, on her tongue, there were the sensations of sweet and sour, of sugar and salt, of a burning coolness and a refreshing fire.
Their tongues sought each other's mouths.
And his tongue became liquid. Liquid?
Panic, perhaps, sparkled in her eyes. He must have seen it, or intuited it, because she felt his tongue re-assemble itself and retract. He stood, backed up one foot, and took off his jacket and shirt.
He took off his skin. The disguise must have been some sort of non-Earth plastic, perfect in its power as an illusion. He peeled it off himself, off his neck and torso, and the pink and red plastic-or-whatever-it-was dropped on the bedroom floor, on top of the jacket and shirt.
The part of him revealed, with the disguise partially off, was red and blue and pink and green and purple and orange and brown and black and white, all those colors flowing inside that which was neither liquid or solid, which was her first clear and unobstructed sight of T'uh-zar's real body.
Undressing, her mind filled with the at first mundane facts of her shoulders, her breasts, her abdomen, her legs . . . She had always labored to find a way for her thoughts and emotions to leap up out of the prison of matter, of mortality, of far too real space-time . . . She had never quite made it, but now, aware of her sexuality for the first time since Ted's death, she was solidly grounded in her body and yet more than that, not just this shell of flesh.
A pale light from nowhere started to dance on the wall. Over the next several minutes it would grow and change, tearing a passage in the fabric of reality, interstellar molecules mixing at first convulsively, then gently with the molecular nuts and bolts of Earth, this ancient beauty, this sweet planet but weary world society.
Both of them naked now . . . But T'uh-zar still wore his human face, his mask. Did any male in the universe ever take that off? Perhaps each one, on any world, came right out of the womb wearing it, on the inside and outside.
She reached and felt the bottom of his neck . . . Found it. The edge, the rope on the curtain, so to speak.
She whispered. "Are you ready?"
"Y-y-yesss . . . " And she heard, in his voice, the fear he was fighting.
Off came the mask. It slipped out of her fingers, falling it-didn't-matter-where-anymore.
Her lips, her nose, the soft rounded vulnerability of her eyes . . . All of it was now held up against a ball of fantastic matter that was neither liquid or solid, and flowed with a trillion colors.
And this was the real face of her true love.
In a tender, slow-motion free fall, she tumbled on top of him. They entered each other.
And there was the familiar pleasure and pain of sex but magnified off the scale. Part of her glimpsed her hand and was delighted to see what must have been groups of molecules detach themselves from her flesh, change to light and gas, and move toward the gateway in the wall, the jumping off point to the unknown distant horizons, where the universe needed to be re-fueled, re-charged, and re-invented.
The sound of a helicopter rumbled over the house. A voice came over a loudspeaker:
"Mrs. Selby, this is Colonel Morgan! You left some of the cellular sample in the lab! We investigated, and put together the pieces of the puzzle! We know who and what he is, and that he's inside with you! Surrender him at once! You are in violation of the July 16, 1969 law, Title 14, Section 1211 of the Code of Federal Regulations! It is illegal to have any contact with extraterrestrials, or their vehicles! The fine is five thousand dollars, and a one-year sentence! We have the house surrounded!"
"Shhh," she said to her lover. "He's not even worth our anger. Nobody here is anymore."
And HERE could only have meant the whole chain of Earthly life and civilization, the glories and failures shared by every man, woman, and child, and she implied with only sixteen syllables the tragedy of walking one world in a universe of billions, and not recognizing the brothers and sisters that surrounded each of us.
A tiny part of her mind heard angry, heavy footsteps, shouts of artless emotion and zero-sum thought, and rumbles of menace coming up the stairs.
For the two of them, a gorgeous coolness soaked a knife of mist through the apparatus of eternity; a thousand echoes of stillness shot down diamond corridors to a void garden; mystery music boiled off pink and black and purple sweat that dripped into melting rivers of time; the blood of a summer that had never happened waxed the pools of dreamy whispers that watched the ticking true music of two brains, souls and bodies in impossible but perfect harmony.
And the colonel and his men would soon finish closing in.
She and her lover wouldn't be up there. Before they were fully in their new homes, in their new states of existence, and saw and heard and felt and thought on a scale that would seem to dwarf infinity, an extremely small part of her wondered if she should have created some ritual for herself to fully say goodbye to Earth.
And the last thought here, before she truly and finally left was this:
Say goodbye? I've been doing that for forty-six years.
Story copyright © 1999 by Kevin James Miller <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Artwork "Mrs. Selby's Galactic Bed" copyright © 1999 by Kalazar <email@example.com>