Susan
The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey


Chapter Two: Arrival

    He woke almost ten hours later. It hadn't been the first time he'd slept on the couch. He expected to be sore and tired as he always was following a road trip, and early indications were that this time would be even more so. Especially after what he'd been through last night.
    Last night!
    The memory made him practically leap off the couch and pop open his eyes. Oh, boy, he thought. There'd been some changes in the night.
    There were hints of color developing like the early stages of a Polaroid. Her clothing had lost its vacuum-pack clingyness in places and fallen away from her body. More detail was beginning to emerge, like better-defined skin texture. Individual hairs were falling out of the seemingly carved mass on her head, shiny and golden.
    Well, he thought, this proves it.
    He reached out and tapped the figure. It was still rigid, massive and hard. Even where the cloak had fallen away it felt like armor plate in spite of its thinness, completely unyielding and acoustically dead. He gingerly felt a loose strand of hair and discovered he could have easily sliced his finger if he'd grabbed at it. It yielded to his touch not at all. What looked like hair felt like a cable on the Golden Gate Bridge.
    Whoa, he said to himself, impressed, looks like tool time again.
    His Curley pliers had no effect on the strand. It wouldn't bend or break and he notched the cutter blade easily. That was enough.
    At the current rate of change, he felt sure he shouldn't screw around. If he was going to be the first human to greet an alien visitor from some other planet, he'd better get ready. He didn't even consider calling anyone else to share the discovery. This thing had landed in his apartment so, barring any evidence to the contrary, it was his gig. He was going to assume that whoever had sent this to him knew what they were doing. Anyway, there wasn't time.
    Breakfast was perfunctory. He didn't bother to reach outside his door for the Chronicle. His obligatory toilette was quicker but more thorough than usual. He dressed a little nicer than he normally would on a day off and even put on a tie. As soon as he was ready, he practically raced downstairs, afraid to miss anything. The changes seemed to be accelerating.
    Every hair on her head was now bright and distinct, falling in a glorious riot of gold across her shoulders and halfway down her back. There was a lot of it, cascading in soft curves in every direction with no bangs or discernible cut. At first glance it had looked like a wire sculpture of a haystack in a hurricane, but there was some subtle organization to it, as if a stylist had done a great deal of work to avoid the appearance that a stylist had done a great deal of work. It shone cleanly, nearly glowing in its intensity, full of body that would be the envy of any shampoo ad model.
    Her ensemble was now fully developed. The motif was basically black and gold, but not so simple as that. The back of her cloak was a shiny satin-like black with deep red highlights, like a brochure photo of a black Mercedes lit with red floodlights. Perhaps the material's color was actually red, but a red that reflected only the single red wavelength that exactly corresponded to the center frequency sensitivity of a red cone in the human retina. A laserlike single hue of red so red that there was no hint of anything but that exact shining red. The lens of a railroad crossing light was like that, a red so deep in the glass that it was perilously close to black; and when it was lit, only pure red escaped from the bulb behind it.
    The inside of her cloak was what might be described as a pale yellow-gold satin, not as shiny as the black/red of the reverse side but rather almost a brushed-metal effect. The cloak was attached in some fashion almost completely around the neck opening of her top so that it could either fall over her shoulders behind her or close in front to completely drape the full length of her body, which would give her an almost formal appearance.
    Her top resembled a kind of tee-shirt, with full-length puffy sleeves closed around her wrists by a band of pale brushed-gold to match the lining of her cloak and other accents. It was the exact analog in black/blue to her cloak's black/red, with intense blue highlights so deep and pure as to be visually confusing.
    Held to her waist by a brushed-gold belt was a mid-thigh skirt in black/red that afforded complete freedom of movement, similar in design to an ice skater's costume. Matching black/red almost moccasin-like slippers with pale brushed-gold soles and practically no heels barely covered her feet.
    There were five small patches of pale brushed-gold in various shapes and sizes worked into the fabric of her top just below her neck. Together, they formed the sort of optical illusion that, if you looked at it long enough, suddenly resolved into some recognizable pattern. After a moment of frowning concentration, it came to him -- the stylized outline of a letter surrounded by an implied hexagonal figure. It resembled... It appeared to be... It was...
    Good Lord, he thought. An 'S'. Unmistakably.
    He was astonished by the symbol. Its familiarity was so unexpected as to be a shock, attached as it was to something about which he already harbored some vague expectations. He was prepared to accept a lot in terms of the origins of his strange visitor from another planet (...universe? ...dimension?). But that she in some way -- at least in design and conception -- originated from some damned comic book was... Well, it was embarrassing. Not something he'd be comfortable being associated with.

    The more he thought about it, the more he was appalled by the arrogance and effrontery the symbol implied. Did this mean what it appeared to mean? Was she literally supposed to be what her costume declared her to be?
    He examined the symbol carefully. Though there was a pronounced stylistic difference in its execution, it was undoubtedly meant to be the equivalent of that famous 'S' from the comics and movies -- as was, he realized, her entire outfit. Not an exact duplication, but rather an homage, conceptualized and executed by a highly competent and subtly artistic designer. She was obviously meant to be taken by anyone on this planet that encountered her as an alien. And not just any alien, but one possessed of, well, 'powers and abilities'...
    It was just outrageous. He actually felt something like anger toward whatever agency was responsible for the theme of her appearance. Here was the earth-shatteringly momentous occasion of First Contact with other intelligent beings in the Universe and their representative shows up dressed for a costume party. It's like they must not take us very seriously.
    And of all the fantasy superheroes they could have picked, why this one? The silliest of the whole sorry lot, a blond super-airhead with at best a tenuous place in the pantheon of adolescent wet dreams. An atomic Barbie. A caped Valley girl. A flying bimbo. Bah.
    What if she turned out to be what her costume represented her to be? Did that mean there might be more of her kind turning up? Just what we need, a gaggle of muscle-bound freaks tearing around the countryside, presumably with a selection of archfiends thrown in to give them something to do. Heaven help us. Was our planet on Candid Cosmic Camera? Double bah.
    He tried to calm down. Why would an alien visitor, regardless of physical attributes, adopt such a guise? Maybe, if she indeed were an alien of such formidable abilities, appearing in such a familiar form would be a way for the natives of this planet to more easily come to terms with her. Who knows to what extent the technological sophistication of a highly advanced civilization could recreate either by genetic manipulation or mechanical artifice any kind of being they desired.
    He thought of sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke's famous 'Law' -- "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Sighing, he decided to withhold judgment for now.
    The AC unit coughed noisily to life and air from the living room vent ruffled her hair and cloak. He felt the thin edge of her cloak, which now resembled normal cloth, as far as he could tell -- smooth, cool and lightweight. He cautiously extended a finger to touch a strand of hair. It, too, now seemed normal. On a hunch, he reached out for a pair of scissors on his end table and tried to snip the end of the hair. As he expected, it wasn't possible, not even with wire cutters. Probably not with anything, he thought. He ran his fingers through her hair in a sort of fatherly gesture. It felt normal.
    He wondered if he should try sticking a pin in her neck, to see if it could be done. He poked her with his finger, instead. Her neck was skin-warm and dimpled beneath his fingertip in a completely natural way. As he pressed a little harder, he thought he felt a pulse start up in response.
    Now, that's weird, he thought.
    He reached for a wrist. He couldn't budge her arms even the slightest amount, but could get his forefinger on the right place. At first there was no pulse in either wrist, but after a moment, it started up in a normal, strong fashion. He looked at his watch and counted. Perfectly ordinary resting pulse rate. Was it blood being pumped from her heart, or a programmed simulation coming on line? She still wasn't breathing.
    He sat down on the couch in front of her and examined her intently. As the presumed emissary of a presumably advanced civilization, she wasn't exactly what he might expect. There was nothing imposing, dignified, wise, terrible, diplomatic, inspiring, holy, businesslike, great or fearsome about her demeanor. As a work of art -- which she was obviously meant to be -- she was a masterful portrait of exquisite magnificence.
    She appeared to be in her late teens, about five-six, maybe 125, fit, clear-skinned, healthy and -- well -- the best word would probably be adorable. A perfect little doll, in fact -- nearly too perfect to be anything but some kind of unworldly apparition somehow made tangible. She seemed to personify the embodiment of the girl-next-door, cheerleader, Girl Scout, childhood sweetheart, gymnast, Homecoming Queen, wonderful daughter out of a 30's movie -- yet with a vaguely Anime-like quality of unreality about her. Her stunning shape was not blatantly voluptuous, but instead marvelously precocious.
    There was great beauty about her, but more than merely because of her form and features. Her sleeping radiance exuded a forthright innocence and youthful joie de vivre that would play upon the heartstrings of man and woman alike. He was impressed. Even more, he was smitten.
    She began breathing quite normally. Her left arm suddenly relaxed and fell to her side. It twitched fitfully a few times, a performance soon matched by her right arm. Then her legs twitched in sequence. One by one, each body part went through a checklist of various operations before she again subsided into a motionless state. She finally achieved the appearance of being asleep on her feet, drooping her shoulders and head slightly so as to effect the illusion.
    Finally, she stretched -- cat-like -- shook herself slightly, straightened up and opened her eyes. Blue, of course (he could have guessed that), luminous and deep. But they gazed motionlessly at some far-away nothingness. Though she showed every outward sign of being alive, she didn't seem to be conscious.
    He very slowly stood up in front of her, but she registered nothing. After waiting what seemed to be interminably for any kind of response, he waved his hand, but her eyes did not follow. He tried again to attract her attention, flapping self-consciously like a big, goofy bird, but she continued to stare blankly ahead.
    Finally, he reached out and touched her shoulder. There was no response. He tried to shake her, but she was immovable. Baffled, he just stood there, as did she. While he looked at her intently, searching for some sign of intelligence or awareness, she just stared on unblinkingly. He tried to decide whether he should be disappointed or panic.
    Well, he thought, saying something out loud seemed to do the trick the last time.
Maybe she was programmed to respond to a verbal cue. So what do you say to an alien lifeform for the very first time?
    This could be the most historic moment in the history of mankind -- or not, of course. Where was Neil Armstrong when you really needed him?
    "That's one small syllable for [a] man, one giant bleep for mankind."
    So he just said, "Hello."
    The effect was startling, her eyes suddenly snapping to the sound of his voice. A powerful sense of her focusing some vast array of attention on him ripped through him like a physical wave. There was a flash of unbelievable intensity in her eyes that weakened his knees. He had never been exposed to such an intense examination. He wanted to run out of the room, but felt pinned by her blue gaze. All he could do was endure until she was finished.
    The pressure gradually diminished and finally stopped as she turned her attention to herself, obviously struggling to frame a response. Her mouth opened and closed several times, and it looked like she was trying to figure out what to do with the air in her lungs. She pursed her lips and stuck out her tongue, which she tried to look at, crossing her eyes. Then she gulped, sighed and made a sound like a very bad parrot imitation that resembled, "Heh...eh...ell...uh...oh..."
    Her delight was tremendous. A huge smile lit up her face. Triumphantly, she declared again, "Hel...lo!" This time it sounded closer to human speech.
    What a trick! She did it again, "Hel-lo."
    And once more, with feeling, "Hello."
    She was improving noticeably with each repetition. "Hello, hell-o, heh-lo, he-llo, h-e-l-l-o, he-el-lo." Then, "HELLO!"
    "Ouch," he winced, "That hurt." Good lungs, he conceded.
    "Hellllllllllllll-ooooooooooh. Hellohellohellohellohellohello. Hel-LOW. HEL-lo. Hello!"
    It took several minutes for her to run through the full repertoire of variations on her rather limited theme. He could do nothing but watch until she eventually ran down and noticed him again. "Hello," she said cheerily.
    "Are you alright?" he inquired.
    She carefully pondered the question as if performing a thorough internal diagnostic routine and finally pronounced gravely, "All right."
    He waited to see how she would handle this new phrase, but there was no repeat of the previous performance. She had found her voice and was ready to go on.
    He asked, "Can I get you anything?"
    She looked puzzled, "Anything?"
    "Would you like a glass of water?" he offered.
    She considered the offer carefully. "Glass," she said doubtfully, "Of water?" She seemed to struggle over conflicting concepts.
    He went to the kitchen while she was trying to figure it out and returned with a big tea glass filled with refrigerator water. He reached out to hand it to her, but she just looked at it. Obviously, she didn't know what to do. Neither did he.
    "Uh, here," he stammered unsurely, "Do you want it?"
    She looked up at him and back at the glass, then declared, "Want it."
    He reached out and took her right hand to guide it to the glass, faintly surprised that he could move it. It seemed like a normal hand, now.
    It was new to her, though. She looked at her hand with amazement, then suddenly flexed her fingers.
    Oh, boy, he thought, here we go again.
    And, sure enough, her discovery of her hand was an occasion of much joy and excitement, with every imaginable flexure getting a thorough workout. Then she discovered her left hand and was off to the races again.
    This could take all day, he thought resignedly.
    When it looked like she was ready, he again offered the glass. She looked at it uncertainly, as if she had forgotten all about it.
    He repeated, "Your glass of water."
    With utmost dignity and appreciation, she accepted it, grasping the glass with elaborate care. Bringing it close to her face, she pronounced, "Glass. Of Water."
    "Glass of water," he acknowledged.
    She promptly turned it upside down and watched the water splash all over the carpet with great interest. Then her face lit up again with the joy of discovery.
    "Glass!" she looked at the glass, "Of water!" She looked down. She seemed to be disappointed that the water had vanished.
    He looked at the mess and sighed. "I thought that after what must be such a long and arduous journey you might like a drink."
    She seemed to feel more confident now. "Drink," she said positively.
    He came back from the kitchen with a refill. She took the glass graciously and didn't dump it. In fact, she just held it, as if possession was sufficient. She seemed to be very proud of her glass. Of water.
    "Drink," he pantomimed, putting an imaginary glass to his lips. "You know, drink."
    He could almost see the light bulb go on over her head.
    "Drink," she agreed.
    She promptly raised the glass to her mouth and took a bite. The glass fell apart like a fresh taco and rained water all over the poor carpet again, though she managed to hold on to the biggest fragment, apparently with no particular regard for the sharp edges. She happily chewed up the mouthful of glass with great relish and swallowed it.
    He tried not to appear stunned. He finally decided it could be that her species was silicon-based and glass was snack material. That might explain some of the other things he'd observed.
    He looked down at the fragments of glass glinting from a now thoroughly soaked patch of carpet and groaned. "I don't think we're making a lot of progress."
    "A lot of progress," she protested.
    He looked at her suspiciously. "Are you actually getting any of this, or just repeating my last words?"
    "Last words," she agreed, and took another bite from the remains of the glass in her hand.
    He opened his mouth as if to speak and then closed it. If he had had any expectations about this first encounter, they certainly wouldn't have been anything like this. As far as he could tell, she was either a complete idiot, or suffering from some sort of weird amnesia. He wasn't sure she understood what he was saying. It was as if she were seeing everything for the first time. Maybe she was. He tried to be sympathetic.
    "I guess you're, uh, kind of new at this, aren't you," he offered.
    She looked around her, nodded her head and then grinned slyly, "Aren't you?"
    She had him there. Wait a minute...
    "Look," he said impatiently, "We're not going to get anywhere if you just say what I say."
    He paused, then said, in very distinct syllables, as if talking to a slightly deaf foreigner, "Do. You. Speak. English?"
    Her eyes rolled up in her head in the age-old manner of the young when confronting a stupid adult.
    "Eng. Lish," she mocked, as if to say, 'duh'.
    "Well then say something original, OK?" he said in exasperation.
    "OK," she agreed.
    He stared at her for a moment, then just had to laugh out loud. She looked at him like she was considering whether or not he'd lost his mind, then seemed to suddenly appreciate the comedy of the moment and laughed along with him. Which, of course, made him laugh even more. Which, of course, proved to be infectious. This went on for some time, but finally ran its course.
    He had to start over somehow. Collecting his dignity, he gravely pronounced, "On behalf of all mankind, welcome to our planet, which we call Terra. My name is Alexander B. Luther." He held out his hand.
    She looked suspiciously at his outstretched hand, then followed suit. There they stood for an awkward moment, hands held out in front of each other until he cautiously took her hand in his and they quite ceremoniously shook.
    "Luther," she repeated.
    "You can call me Alex," he prodded, hoping for an appropriate response.
    "Lex," she said.
    "No! Alex," he protested, stressing the 'A'. He'd always hated the 'L' name. Once, when he'd received some low-level recognition from his junior high science teacher for a minor academic achievement, the teacher read aloud, "Mr. Alexander B. Luther."
    Some obnoxious classmate had sarcastically inquired, "What's the 'B' stand for -- Brainiac?"
    Howls of nasty laughter had ensued and the nickname stuck. Since it was in its own way a kind of perverse recognition, he'd never minded it. At least, not nearly as much as Lex. He didn't think he should volunteer that information, though.
    He pressed on, "And how shall I address you?" he asked.
    She looked like she was searching her memory.
    He tried again. "Do you have a name?"
    She looked down at the floor, then shook her head, looking embarrassed.
    Well, she'd just completed what was probably an enormously difficult journey from God-knows-where, and undergone an unimaginable metamorphosis. Maybe it would take a while before she recovered completely. He should cut her some slack.
    "Look, I'm sorry. You must be worn out. I certainly am, and I haven't gone nearly as far you must have. Why don't you sit down and relax", he said, gesturing to the overstuffed sofa chair he reserved for company.
    She eyed it dubiously, as if the journey there were more difficult than the one she'd recently completed. Clearly, she understood what he wanted her to do but wasn't sure about how to go about it. He didn't know if he should try to help her or not, and didn't know how he could, anyway.
    Slowly and deliberately, she lifted one foot and turned it toward the chair. It was as if she had to read an instruction manual translated from Chinese.
    Please to the picking up first of foots having nearest the distance at which are being object of destination in a direction. Observe balancing, do opposing in a sequences. When completed desired rotation. Proceed with alacrity to the stop. There will rotate until aligned for a sitting down.
    At first teetering like a newbie skater, she managed the feat without disaster and sank gingerly into the chair, unsure of what to do with her cape. Assuming one teenage posture after another, she experimented until finally settling into a leg-tucked position that she decided was comfortable.
    Alex settled back on the couch. He wondered where he should start. He decided to forget the 'You Tarzan, me Jane' shtick for now.
    "Can we talk?" he asked.
    "Talk," she said.
    In the manner of a knocked-out boxer's manager, he asked, "Do you know where you are?"
    She surveyed his tiny living room for a moment, then said, "Here."
    He felt relieved to break the pattern at last. Now he was getting somewhere. Well, sort of. It could be her name for our planet was different and maybe unpronounceable.
    "Can you tell me where you came from?" he went on, not really expecting an answer he could understand.
    She looked at the wreck on the carpet where she had been standing. "There."
    Literally correct, of course. She definitely had Vulcan blood. "No, I mean where do you come from?"
    She looked baffled.
    He tried again, "Before," he emphasized, "you came here, where were you?"
    "I am here", she said, "I was there," she gestured at the wet spot.
    See Spot run, he thought. Definitely some kind of amnesia, hopefully temporary.
    "Do you know why you are here?" he went on.
    "Why is why?" she pondered aloud.
    Well, there's a Zen answer. From the mouths of babes comes wisdom...
    "Can you tell me anything about yourself?" he tried.
    "I was there," she said, "And now I am here."
    "You don't remember anything else?"
    "There is no anything else," she said with certainty.


Chapter Three: Acquaintance


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Patrick Hill, 2000