Aunt Lauries home, 5:00 AM
Phil? Time to rise and shine! Lets go! The days almost over!
Aunt Lauries voice carried down the stairway as she shuffled into the bathroom from her bedroom. In the study, Phil was slumbering contentedly on a life-size bust of Abraham Lincoln. Ironically, the Great Emancipators head was perfectly comfortable as a Tetrite bed. As an added feature, Phil found the prominent nose to be quite handy when climbing onto the stone figure. Even with the prompting of Aunt Lauries voice, Phils eyes remained closed. One leg moved unsteadily back behind his head to deal with a minor itch while his small mouth stretched quietly into a yawn. A quick shake of the his head and his eyes opened to meet the new day. Phil was awake.
Sliding off Lincoln, Phil dropped to the floor and trundled to the window at the back of the house. On the sofa, the playing cards from the night before were piled neatly on the center cushion. Phil climbed up on the arm of the couch to peer out the window at the small cottage where William and Lillith remained. As loud and as constant as during the previous night, the screams of pleasure and moans of delight still came from the cottage. The twin torus spun relentlessly in the predawn glow. Phil could see no change at all in the situation. He reported in to Aunt Laurie by simply speaking loudly.
My goodness, Mistress Aunt Laurie, the Mistress and the William appear to have continued for over ten hours. I do not recall them having such inexhaustible enthusiasm before. Is there reason for concern? That darn itch started up again as Phil tried once more to deal with it.
I dont think theres anything we can do about it, Phil. Aunt Lauries voice came from the bathroom. Theyre caught up in the Gift until it runs out by itself. Those rings circulating around the cottage are energy coronas. Im guessing that those two are taking in an awful lot of energy from the Universe somehow. Hope the neighbors dont complain. Especially old man Hewitt. Hes a real pain in the ass sometimes.
Phil had left the window and had come upstairs while listening to Aunt Laurie. He was standing right outside the door of the bathroom just to hear her better.
The Universe is a rather large place, Mistress Aunt Laurie. The quantity of energy available within the Matrix is incalculable. Is there any way to know when the Gift will expire? The bathroom door suddenly opened. Aunt Laurie, dressed in a pink robe, pink fuzzy slippers, and a towel wrapped around her head, began to step out as she shouted to be heard down the stairs.
YES....oh, sorry, youre right here. Yes, Phil, the Gift runs for four solar days. Phil did the arithmetic in his head.
It would appear that I have an excessive amount of time to wait.
Oh, were going to be plenty busy, Phil. I dont want to sit around here listening to all of that going on all day. Do you?
Phil thought a moment. It does have a certain repetition that limits its appeal as entertainment.
Exactly. Didnt you tell me last night that information is what you Tetrites live for?
Well, in a manner of speaking, yes, but I did not refer to it in those terms.
Close enough. Well, what would you say if I told you I have access to a place where information is kept about everything on the planet?
Phils mouth fell open. Valid information?
Yeah, I guess so. Most of it anyway. Interested?
That would be most welcome!
Good! Let me get dressed, well eat, and head out right away.
That would be MOST welcome! Phil was so excited he began to pace a bit. He finally decided to climb up on the dresser to give Aunt Laurie more room to change her clothes. This was all so exciting!
Yes, Mistress Aunt Laurie? Phil was almost breathless with anticipation.
Would you leave the room please? Phil stopped in his tracks.
Did I displease you somehow?
No, Phil. I just want to change my clothes.
Does that act necessitate my absence.
It does. Phil looked very confused, enough so that Aunt Laurie guessed right the first time. Lillith doesnt wear much in the way of clothes, does she?
Id bet she doesnt care much about taking them off in front of anyone when she does.
You would win that wager, Mistress Aunt Laurie. Is changing clothes considered a private matter on Terra?
Yes, Phil. Were a shy species. Phil nodded his understanding as he climbed down from the dresser.
Quite similar to taking a dump. I have been instructed by the William about such matters.
A very red-cheeked Aunt Laurie replied. Yes, it sounds like something that William would instruct someone about. Speaking of which, do you need to do anything along those lines? Phil hadnt thought about it until now, but yes, as a matter of fact, he did. His earnest face nodded silently. Aunt Laurie escorted him to the bathroom. Then help yourself. Ill be out in a moment.
Phil scampered into the room as the door closed behind him. There, in front of him, loomed a gleaming porcelain toilet.
He sighed and felt a bit embarrassed as he remembered a recent experience.
Inside the cottage
The two lovers were completely lost in each other. Moving so fast that they appeared as little more than a blur, glimpses of their bodies could be seen as momentary flashes, as if a strobe light was capturing some rapidly moving objects. Lillith appeared to be inverted at the moment, while William seemed to be leaning backward. Their bodies glowed brightly from the massive heat being generated. All around them, swirling winds and energy currents gave the appearance that this was all happening within the eye of a small hurricane! The roar of the swirling winds and energy coronas was deafening, but Lillith and William didnt seem to notice. At the moment, William was shouting so loud that he could just be heard above the roar.
Oh, my god, Lillith! LILLITH! YES!!!
The County Community College
Aunt Laurie and Phil walked side-by-side toward the massive, brick complex. Phil was beside himself with wonder.
Terrans come to this place to acquire information?
Thats it in a nutshell, Phil, but theres one particular place here that I wanted to show you. She turned up a winding sidewalk that ended at the center of a towering glass wall of the largest building. The two friends passed through the glass doors and into a large atrium.
What.....what is this place? Phils voice was filled with awe at what he saw around him. Everywhere, Terrans were silently gathering information. The walls, as far as he could see, were lined with the printed materials that held all of the wondrous ideas and concepts. To a being from a world where information was considered a precious commodity, Phil had just walked into a fantasy!
We call it a library, Phil. Theres a library in just about every town and every school on the planet. It wasnt always that way, but about one hundred years ago, everyone finally realized that the only way to improve things was to get as much knowledge to as many people as possible. A very old concept suddenly became an answer.
Phil stepped forward, his eyes roaming across the endless room. For everyone?
For everyone. Forever.
Phils heart nearly burst! How noble this species was! They held information in such high regard! Just as much as the Tetrites did! In this, they were kindred. Phil felt a closeness to the Terrans he had never felt before! Such a marvelous species! Such a wonderful, wonderful species!
Phil followed Aunt Laurie to an empty table in the back of the main hall. She instructed him on the use of the computers that stood as sentinels at every table. He could now find anything he was curious about. Many materials could be instantly brought up on the screen, but Aunt Laurie urged Phil to get the original bound book if he wanted to spend more time with any particular subject.
You know, Phil, at one time, I guess it was maybe a hundred and fifty or so years ago, it was predicted, usually by those with an interest in the technology, that books would be made obsolete by computers. They forgot a few things about human nature and it never really happened. Then there was a kind of renaissance of book publishing back in the 21st century that never stopped. There are books everywhere now! Phil nodded his understanding and looked down a long row of shelving filled with books.
There are so many, mistress.
And its still not enough. Everything that we are as a species is right here, Phil. The bad and the good, everything. Do you need any help with the printed words?
Oh, no, mistress! My knowledge of the language includes a full understanding of the symbolic representations of each recognizable speech pattern. Terran English is formidable to read, but I can accommodate the literature.
Ill bet you can, Phil.
Within minutes, Phil was tapping in queries, finding appropriate books, and retrieving them like he had done this all his life. Phil was in his element now, a remarkably happy Tetrite!
He found books on science and technology, absorbing them all with amazing rapidity. Returning them to carts marked Return books here, Phil filled the cart so quickly that, after a while, it took two librarians to keep up with him. They got a small break when Phil found the complete works of William Shakespeare. His reading slowed noticeably under the style and structure of the works, but his appreciation of them was very evident to Aunt Laurie. She found it difficult to get Phils attention.
Phils eyes continued to scan.
Her volume caused one of the librarians to glare at her. Aunt Laurie signaled her apology as Phil looked up from the page.
My apologies, Mistress Aunt Laurie. This Hamlet person is a very involved character. I was trying to determine what was troubling him at the moment. Aunt Laurie shook her head.
Good luck with that one, Phil. Look, would you mind if I went across the campus to see an old friend? Would you be alright here?
My goodness, yes! Please do as you wish, I will remain here. This information is most welcome!
Aunt Laurie smiled approvingly. Alright. Ill see you later then? Phil had already returned to Hamlet, but waved his leg goodbye. Aunt Laurie quietly stepped away from the table, trying hard not to disturb Phil. As she passed one of the librarians, she headed off an obvious question.
Hes a Tetrite, dear. That means hes from out of town. Try to be nice and not start an interstellar war or anything, okay? The librarians eyes grew large as she nodded.
Back at the table, Phil mumbled ...Denmark.... Looking up momentarily, his beady eyes blinked twice before he scampered over to a nearby globe.
An answer usually yielded more questions. Questions that required more information. Information leading to answers that yielded still more questions. For hours, Phil absorbed information at a rapid rate. After a while, many of his paths of discovery ran out. He then started new, fresh inquiries that led to yet others. So it went throughout the morning.
On Tetra, when the Tetrites heard, the information received was sometimes only a fragment, maybe just a passing thought. A passing thought that created a storm of discussion and interpretation among the Tetrites. But here, today, Phil was having the gaps in his understanding filled. Here, he could pursue information wherever it led him. The library did more than simply provide endless information to a being who valued it. The library provided closure to his questions. The closure gave him peace.
It was nearly 11:00 when Aunt Laurie returned. With her was a tall, slender, elderly gentleman. His long hair, descending from a bespeckled and balding head, gave him somewhat of a Ben Franklinesque look, even if his slight build was not up to the illusion. Dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, he nonetheless wore the appropriate tweed sportcoat with elbow patches that marked him as a college professor. He stood behind and slightly to the left of Aunt Laurie as they approached Phils table. Phil was tapping the table lightly in thought as he peered intently at one of the many books scattered around him.
Phil? Id like you to meet someone. Phil looked up and blinked. This is Professor Pulaski, Professor of Physics at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He teaches out here at the College during the summer months. Hes an old friend and he wanted to meet you. Phils head swiveled to point at the old gentleman just before he trundled to the edge of the table. He extended a leg to shake, as he had learned the Terran custom from William.
The warmest of good mornings to you, Professor Pulaski! The professor tentatively took the tip of Phils leg in his hand, as if he were shaking hands.
Yes, er, very nice indeed to meet you, Mr. Phil. Phil seemed pleased to have a Terran title given with his name. I see you are an avid reader with a broad range of interests. Even physics, I see.
My goodness, yes! With so much information available, it is difficult to choose a single subject to pursue at any one time. I have discovered some wonderful information that is most valid!
I see. Have you found any information that is not valid? Phil looked disappointed.
Unfortunately, indeed I have. For example, you inquired about physics, this book contains a great deal of invalid information. Phil held up a book on theoretical physics. But, to be fair, it is only because the premise is based on a single invalid theory. The Professor looked a bit uncomfortable as students, overhearing the conversation, began to gather around the table.
And what theory is it that you have a problem with, sir?
This theory of Isolated Temporal Laminates is not valid.
Is that so? What makes you say that?
It cannot be supported mathematically, sir. The proof breaks down in the first integral.
Breaks down in the first...? Of course it does! You cant use that methodology to prove that! The proper method is discussed fully in the....
You must use the proper method, professor, or it proves nothing. But I should point out that the only reason the integration fails is because it is based on a false postulate.
WHAT!! The bellowing voice of the Professor got the attention of everyone in the library as well as students in the surrounding halls. His red face had gotten Phils attention.
Sir, you seem to be taking my information in such a way that you are becoming angry. I do not wish to offend, sir. May I inquire as to the reason for your anger?
The Professor pointed to the book held by Phil and seemed to snarl his words at Phil. Because I wrote that book, sir.
Phil looked down at the book, blinked twice, and simply said Oh dear.... He set the book gently down on the table and stepped away from it. Perhaps we could discuss another subject? The Professor was not going to let him off so easily. He was a respected theoretical physicist, author, lecturer, and consultant to heads of state. This little creature was putting years of his work into question! No, he was not going to let Phil off that easily!
Perhaps you should do the proof.
If my theory is wrong, the postulate invalid, and my years of work garbage then I want you to show me the proof!
You wish to have the information, sir?
Yes. I wish to have the information. Please. Phil shrugged.
As you wish, sir. Gathering up pencil and paper, Phil began placing mathematical notation on the paper. This is where your assumptions fail, sir. Consider this function instead. The symbols strung across the page and down as the Professors eyes widened. And here, sir, as you see, the integration falls to hand easily without difficulty.
Yes, yes, I see.
Through two more pages of paper, Phil evaluated the equations to complete the proof. All the while, more and more students filled the room to see the moment. It was fascinating for them to see the venerable Professor Pulaski being tutored. Finally, Phil finished and placed the pencil down.
Do you require any additional information, Professor?
My God! Its so simple! The elegance of it all is perfect! Why didnt I see that?
Phil turned his head slightly. I cannot answer that question with any certainty, sir, but I have confidence that you would have reached a similar conclusion given time. There are hundreds of species that are working on the same problem without overcoming this difficulty. Perhaps there is solace in that? The Professor laughed.
Some, but not enough. Aunt Laurie touched the Professor on the shoulder.
Andy, what does all this mean?
It means, Laurie, that Ive been wrong all these years. Dimensions in time are not nice, evenly stratified laminates. Theyre more like the peaks of waves out on the ocean, rolling and moving, flowing into and through each other. As incredible as it may seem, our reality crosses dimensions of time like a ship on the ocean plowing through those waves! Its fantastic! Do you realize what this means?
Means were not going to have lunch together, doesnt it. Aunt Laurie did share his enthusiasm.
It means...what? No. I mean, no, I cant join you, Laurie. Sorry. Theres so much I have to do! All my work has to be redone against this new information. Ive got papers to write. The Institute! Ive got to call Caldwell about this! He quickly kissed Laurie on the cheek and nearly ran out of the library. He didnt even notice the applause from the nearly seventy-five students and faculty who had watched the whole thing. Aunt Laurie definitely looked annoyed.
Way to go, Phil. You sure know how to throw cold water on my love life. Phil took on a look of regret.
My apologies, Mistress Aunt Laurie. I did not realize that you wished to mate with him. Aunt Laurie and the students broke out laughing.
Oh, Christ, Phil! Not at my age! Wed probably kill each other. Hell, Ill settle for lunch and a little heavy neckin. The students were laughing so hard now, some of them rolled on the tables. The librarians were having fits! As the laughter subsided, a young female student stepped forward and asked a sincere question.
How did you know all that?
I simply possess the information.
But youre smarter than Professor Pulaski.
No, mistress, I simply possess the information. The Professor will take that information and use it to deduce concepts that do not now exist and for which no information exists. In that is the value of the information, but I cannot do that. I would thus consider the Professor to be smarter than myself, as I would hope you do as well. The girl smiled and nodded. From the other side, a boy asked another question.
Where do you come from? Phil turned toward him.
I come from Tetra.
Do all of you have only five legs?
No, I lost three of my legs in a military conflict.
You mean a war? You guys have war?
Not among ourselves. We suffered two wars with an outside species called the Arions. Someone toward the center of the group spoke up.
Hey, I heard of those guys! Arent they the ones who Superfemme is always takin on?
Ah, Mistress Kara! Indeed!
Wow, and you guys defeated them! Cool! Phil suddenly looked quite serious.
No, sir. No, we did not. My species was facing extinction at the hands of the Arions and we were powerless to prevent it. We were saved by our Protector, Mistress Lillith, genetic sister to your Protector, Mistress Kara.
Wow, theres two babes like that?
To be precise, there are well over four thousand such babes in the Universe, sir. All of the students were stunned by this news. They had always thought that Superfemme was unique and alone in the Universe. As the commotion eased, a small, plump girl with the largest brown eyes Phil had ever seen stepped forward and asked him her question in a voice filled with wonder.
Who else is out there?
Phil smiled knowingly, but said nothing.
The discussion that occurred for the next hour was an interaction between species on a higher level. There was no separation because of differing physical aspects. It was a coming together out of a commonality of intellect. Thoughts, ideas, perceptions, imaginations, realities, all joined in to stimulate each other in ways neither species expected. For Phil and the students, it was pure enjoyment. It was Aunt Laurie who finally ended the discussion for the day.
Phil, we should get back to the house and check on our other guests, dont you think? Phil had to think a moment before he understood her meaning.
Oh, my goodness! Yes! We should be going! The students were visibly disappointed. The girl who had asked the very first question of Phil spoke up again.
Will you come back tomorrow? Phil looked quickly to Aunt Laurie, who nodded.
Yes, we will return tomorrow.... Again, he looked to Aunt Laurie who mouthed the word to him. ....morning! We will return tomorrow morning. I do hope to see you all again. This has been most enjoyable speaking with you!
While the students called out their goodbyes and left the library, Phil scampered over to where Aunt Laurie was speaking to one of the librarians. He just caught the end of what the librarian was saying.
....simply too disruptive, maam. There are other people to consider here. Aunt Laurie nodded her understanding.
Look, how about if you let us use one of those meeting rooms downstairs. I dont think well see more than half of the number of students who were here today. That should work out, dont you think? The librarian was already checking the computer.
Looks like CR-3 is available. How does that sound?
Aunt Laurie nodded with a smile. Sounds great! See you tomorrow morning.
Following Aunt Laurie to the door of the library, Phil paused, turned to the librarian, and gave her an energetic wave goodbye. The librarian wiggled her fingers at him in reply and smiled as he turned to scamper out the door.
It had been a very nice day indeed.
At the house, that evening
The black and white images played across the large HDTV screen as the film classic, Casablanca, continued to play from an old DVD-IV disk. Aunt Laurie had most of the ancient movies on disk and the old Humphrey Bogart film was a favorite.
Phil lounged on his belly at the edge of the sofa cushion. Most of his legs dangled loosely over the edge - the picture of a relaxed Tetrite. His attention was completely on the movie though, watching every move. Aunt Laurie noticed that his fur rose a bit whenever a Nazi appeared onscreen. But it was toward the end of the film, when it looked like Rick was about to be arrested for shooting the German officer, that Phil appeared most upset. He fidgeted nervously until he heard the line Round up the usual suspects! Phil nearly fell off the sofa in his excitement! The movie finally ended and Aunt Laurie turned off the equipment.
That was most enjoyable, Mistress Aunt Laurie! The Rick being should not have killed, but he did so without recourse available to him. Is that not correct? Aunt Laurie was tired from their long day and answered through a yawn.
Hmm, I suppose so, Phil. Do you think killing is alright if its the only course of action for you in a just cause? Phil thought a moment.
I do not know whether it is right or wrong, Mistress Aunt Laurie, but I know that I have found myself in such a situation and did what I thought was correct. I do hope that my actions will be judged to be ethically right.
Tell me again, who won the last war?
I suppose we did, mistress.
Then your actions will be judged to be correct, Phil. The history will be recorded by your own species. Not to worry. Aunt Laurie started for the stairs. She was very tired. Phil trundled along beside her. She suddenly had a thought. Check on the lovebirds before we call it a night, would you, Phil? Phil nodded and quickly made for the back window. The twin torus continued to spin and flare brightly, although the screams and moans had subsided in frequency to only an occasional outburst. There was still a great deal of activity within the cottage. Phil could just make out rapid motion through the small windows. The curtains that had once blocked his view through those windows were now noticeably absent. It mattered very little since all one could make out were fleeting images of shadow and light. The swirling energy hurricane blocked all detail. Phil reported in.
They are still fully engaged, mistress. Aunt Laurie stopped momentarily in her climb up the stairs.
Is the cottage still there?
Yes, mistress. It still stands. Aunt Laurie shrugged.
Well thats something anyway. Goodnight, Phil.
The warmest of good evenings to you, mistress. Sleep well.
No problem there, Phil. Im going to sleep tonight, no problem. Call me if the Universe collapses, would you? Otherwise, let me sleep in tomorrow.
Phil considered the possibilities of Aunt Laurie being disturbed were extremely small as he climbed up onto Lincoln, settled comfortably, and quickly fell asleep.
11:00 AM, The County Community College
Phil and Aunt Laurie were late getting to the College. They had dawdled all morning, talking and sipping coffee. It was only Phils promise to the students that finally brought them back out to the College.
As Phil and Aunt Laurie entered the atrium of the library, they were amazed to see hundreds of students milling around. The unique sound of concurrent conversations reverberated off the hard, high walls of the glass and stone room.
There must be an art exhibit or something going on, Phil. We can check it out before we go.
That would be most exciting, Mistress Aunt Laurie! I will ask the students at our meeting about it also.
Dont be too disappointed if no one shows up, Phil. Whatevers going on, it looks like its popular. Jeez! Look at em all!
All through the atrium, students sat on benches or chairs, leaned against bookcases, or hung over balcony railings above. As Phil and Aunt Laurie walked along, they noticed that everyone was pointing at them.
I dont like the looks of this, Phil. Somethings up.
Perhaps they simply find my appearance disagreeable.
I dont think so, Phil. In fact, just the opposite. Aunt Laurie had looked behind her and saw that all the students that they had walked by just moments before were following her and her Tetrite friend into the library!
Phil? Forget what I said about nobody showing up. Phil? Phil?
Phil had already scampered over to the main group of students, wishing them the warmest of good mornings, and asking them about the art exhibit. None of them knew anything about it.
This left Aunt Laurie alone to face the full wrath of the Principle Librarian herself. Red faced and barely under control, she charged straight at Aunt Laurie to vent her anger in the sternest of whispers.
This is just too unusual for words! What did you hope to gain by disrupting this library with your unscheduled rally! Really! Did you really think you could just DO this sort of thing? This is a place of contemplative study, not rabble rousing! Just who do you think you are?
Aunt Laurie had spent an entire lifetime dealing with bureaucrats in some of largest institutions of the solar system and beyond. This one was not a problem. Aunt Laurie kept smiling and spoke as if the Principle Librarian had not uttered a word.
Hello, Im with the Tetrite. We reserved conference room CR-3 for today. Is it still available? The Principle Librarian blinked, immediately confused.
I...I think it is.
Could you check and confirm, please. We are going to hold a discussion group.
You....you cant! Not in CR-3! With all these people? No thats impossible. Fire code states a limit of twenty-four maximum in that facility when....
Look, dear, Id hate to break your concentration while your chanting the fire regulations, but you simply have to deal with the situation. My friend and I are going into CR-3.
You cant take all these people in there!
Dear, Im not taking anyone anywhere. Phil and I are going in there. Thats two, dear, if youre keeping track. Two out of twenty-four. Were still legal.
The Principle Librarian was starting to feel cornered. Aunt Laurie knew not to let that happen and leaned forward to give the woman a way out. You might consider calling the College administration to request the use of another, more appropriate facility on campus in order to prevent the misuse of the library as well as to restore the proper order to the facility. Hm? Plus, well be someone elses problem. Wouldnt that be nice? Aunt Laurie smiled brightly just as the Principle Librarian did the same. But the smile didnt remain long as a stern look returned to the Principle Librarians face. To add effect, she wagged her finger as well.
Youll simply have to move to a more appropriate facility! This is no place for something like this! Im going to make a call to the Administration and have you and your group moved! This simply wont do!
Youre absolutely right. I appreciate your help. Thank you.
As the Principle Librarian stormed back behind the counter and stabbed her finger repeatedly on the internal phone, Aunt Laurie turned slightly and called to Phil, a subtle smile on her lips. Phil, engaged in conversation, excused himself and scampered over to Aunt Laurie immediately.
Were being moved to somewhere else on campus, Phil. Someplace larger. Shes calling now.
Did you mention that we had reserved a space for our discussions, mistress? Aunt Laurie shrugged.
Its out of my hands, Phil. They insisted. They can be pretty tough sometimes, you know. At least theyre finding a place for us instead of just turning us out.
That IS most welcome!
Yeah. Nice people.
Stattler Auditorium Theater, across campus
It was standing room only. Some estimates were of at least 1500 people crowded into a room only meant for 849. If the Fire Marshal were to show up here, there would be trouble. Everyone was talking, waiting for Phil to show up. Suddenly, on the stage, Aunt Laurie stepped out, unfolded a steel chair, and sat down just inside the proscenium arch. Phil followed, together with Professor Pulaski. They approached center stage before facing the gathered assemblage. Phil stood calmly by as Professor Pulaski quieted the large group and began to speak into a very small, wireless microphone.
For those of you who were with us yesterday, you were witness to a wonderfully fulfilling discussion with a visitor from another world. It is certainly not unusual in these modern times to meet beings from outside our system, but to meet one such as this gentleman is a rare treat indeed. Phil was just finishing tending to a slight itch on his back. He turned to look back at Aunt Laurie, smiled, and gave her a wave of a leg. She gave him a subtle wave of her fingers and smiled as well. So, allow me to turn our meeting over to our visitor from Tetra, Philandopo...er, Philunthrapa....um..... The professor looked down to see a fuzzy face with beady eyes smiling up at him. The professor could only sigh and smile too. Our visitor from Tetra, Phil.
The room filled with applause as the professor handed the small microphone down to Phil and retreated back to take a seat next to Aunt Laurie. Phil was now alone at the front of the stage and faced the group.
My goodness, professor, I do thank you. I too enjoyed our discussion and look forward to continuing the dialog today. Information must always be accepted, but invalid information is never welcome. One of the most worthy tests of information is free discussion. We are certainly putting the test to a great deal of information! The group laughed good-naturedly as Phil stepped forward to the edge of the stage. If I may, I would very much like to say something to you now. I am not sure whether I will ever get the chance to speak to so many Terrans at one time again, so please forgive me if I take this opportunity. Phil cleared his throat and began to speak with a voice filled with sincerity and warmth.
I come from a planet where we have ways to explore the Universe without traveling through it. In my world, thought has substance. We can feel it. We can hear it. And through those thoughts, we know the hearts of others. I have known a distant mothers loss and seen the evil in the souls of beings thousands of parsecs away. We cannot hear them all, but we do hear enough. And from that, we know them. We do know them.
You. You here today. You Terrans on this planet and across your known galaxy, are so unique in all the Universe. There is no other species quite like you. The wonder that we hold for you is impossible to express. You are capable of so much...and still so much more. Would it surprise you to hear that very few species dream? But you do. I know you do. I have heard. The room was absolutely silent. So when the professor speaks of our meeting being a rare treat, I understand his meaning all too well. It is certainly one of the greatest moments of my life to meet you all. Here. Today. This minute. Phil paused to look into some of the faces looking back at him. Now, who wants to begin?
The hall exploded in applause, startling Phil. He looked out across the sea of faces as they stood up and continued their applause. Looking back to Aunt Laurie, she too was standing, clapping her hands rapidly. Phil raised his leg to quiet everyone down, but they would not. He finally insisted and, after a brief time, the applause finally ceased.
My goodness! After that, I feel rather tentative to disagree with anyone! Laughter again filled the room.
For the next three days, Aunt Laurie and Phil would go to the College in the mornings and return to the house in the afternoons. Out at the cottage, the twin torus continued to spin, although the screaming finally subsided. The Gift continued.
Afternoons were spent doing chores around the farm, although there was always time for a trip to some interesting location. A nearby forest preserve gave Phil the opportunity to see, of all things, a forest. Something unheard of back on Tetras bleak landscape. It was on one of these trips that Phil saw his first spider. For nearly an hour, Phil watched the tiny creature build its web in complete fascination. A fascination that had its limits.
Well, Phil, how much longer are you going to sit there and watch that cousin of yours work? Aunt Lauries legs were starting to give out.
It is most interesting to observe the construction of this structure by the simple function of extruding material from its body, but I am prepared to leave when you wish. I can assure you, Mistress Aunt Laurie, this insect is not a cousin.
An arachnid actually, Phil.
Thank you, mistress, an appropriate correction.
I only meant, you know, the eight legs and all, that maybe you felt a ....
Birds stand on two legs, as you do, mistress. Do you feel a kinship with birds based on that fact? Aunt Laurie quickly nodded with a smile.
As you said, Phil, an appropriate correction. Thank you. Come on, lets go.
As Aunt Laurie and Phil slowly walked the leaf-covered path back to the parking lot, a question came to Aunt Laurie.
So, out of curiosity, what DID you think of the spider?
A fascinating creature, yet I did not feel comfortable in its presence, mistress. Aunt Laurie laughed.
You mean, you dont like spiders?
With regrets to the arachnid, I do not.
Kinda creepy, huh?
In the evenings, they relaxed in front of the huge television. Except when something interesting held their attention through to completion, Aunt Laurie would make a point of visiting one of the many home shopping channels at frequent intervals, just to see whats up. It was an education for Phil as well.
Do you wish to make a purchase?
Naw, just like to see what they have. Aunt Laurie turned the sound up a bit.
....you can look throughout the solar system and not find gemstones like this! Absolutely flawless! Look how the light plays off of it! Isnt that gorgeous! For today only, we made a special purchase directly with the Europa manufacturer, today only, twenty-nine dollars and sixty-five cents! Call in right away and well throw in the matching ....
Is that an appropriate price for absolutely flawless gemstones purchased special from the manufacturer, mistress?
Sounds unbelievable, doesnt it?
The fourth day
Today, Phil planned simply to enjoy being in the library. No big discussions of physics or philosophy or any other topic. Today, Phil simply wanted the fun of information. He decided to merely look around the library and discover something unrelated to what he had already found. This was more fun than he could recall ever having! He set out through the large room, passing down an aisle that he had already visited many times. In the next aisle, Phil came across some very old books on UFOs. At first, he thought they were travel books. But when he read a little of some of them, he discovered just how nervous and unsettled the Terrans had once been about coming into contact with outside species. He smiled at the innocence of it all, put the books back on the shelf, and continued on his way.
Phil turned the corner and noticed another aisle he hadnt seen yet. The blue sign said 20th Century History. Phil trundled happily down the aisle to discover more Terran wonders.
Aunt Laurie had stayed longer than she had intended. Her old friend had always been gabby, even more so since they had not seen each other for a while. She was mildly concerned for Phil, but expected him to be quite content with staying the extra time. What she found when she returned, she did not expect.
Phil sat crumpled in a corner of the window, staring out at the broad, green lawns in silence. Books were strewn all over the table, none of which were neatly stacked as was Phils habit. As she came closer, Phil did not seem to notice her and remained motionless. She thought she could hear Phil crying, but the sound from Phil was so faint, she could not be sure. Glancing down at the books, she saw words she hadnt heard about for years. Ethnic Cleansing, Cambodian Killing Fields, Rwandam Genocide, Nazis Final Solution, Stalin, Hitler, Hussein, terrorism, bombs, gas; wholesale killing on a scale of immense proportions. Phil had discovered a darker side to his beloved Terrans and had evidently followed the information through as if he couldnt bring himself to believe it. Genocide. It was a side of Terrans that he had never suspected and it shocked him. The shock of the other side that now tore at him deeply. He hurt so terribly at the idea that Terrans could ever do what the books told him. He checked and cross-referenced endlessly until there was no doubt about the truth of it. Phil finally couldnt face any more of it and he simply broke down.
Phil? Phil, are you alright? Aunt Laurie tried to be as gentle as she knew how to be. Phil never turned around. He seemed to be speaking to no one in particular as his words mixed tearfully with his grief.
They have such wonderful abilities. They create beauty from nothing and share it willingly. Does it matter that Terrans can bring such wonders into the Universe if they choose to destroy each other in such ways? So many. Cruelty so terrible that.... It is just so... The words could no longer escape his emotion. For the moment, feeling was all that he could manage.
Aunt Laurie approached him gently and joined him at the window. She could think of nothing to say for the moment and only sighed. Phil felt her presence and seemed to plead for the answer he could not find in the books. There was no mercy to it, mistress. The reasons given had no difference from the Arion rationale for tormenting my own planet and killing so many! To think of Terrans as no better than the Arions is... Phil became lost in his tears as Aunt Laurie leaned close to him. She stroked his furry back, trying to calm him.
Phil, that was in the distant past. Its long over and done with. We killed and we died in order to learn. Those lessons are burned into every generation that lives in peace now. The hurt you feel, we feel too. The shame you have, we have too. This world is so small now. We are all one people at last. When the first species from out there came, it shook us up and changed the way we viewed each other. You and other species like you made us change by simply coming here, but we would not have changed a bit if the ability and the wisdom to do so had not already been inside us. Yes, the twentieth century was brutal, but this is not the twentieth century. We are not better, we are simply more of what we truly are, maybe what we had been all along but never felt safe enough to be.
Phil stopped crying and leaned into her shoulder a bit. I wish very much to believe that to be true, Mistress Aunt Laurie. Aunt Laurie hugged Phil a moment and smiled warmly.
Perhaps, the answer lies somewhere in the idea that it would be best not to judge us too harshly as a species by our past. We evolve and develop just as every other species does. Take us, each, one at a time. Know us that way to decide about Terrans. In your travels, have you experienced any of the brutality that you read about?
Phil sat up a bit and thought a moment. No. Just the opposite.
Have you ever heard such things?
No, no, never! That is quite valid!
Well, there you go. Its not that were all that terrific, Phil. But what we are is a species that is capable of terrible things, but that chooses to face them and refuse. We refuse to accept our own dark behavior. I hope that says something about our character.
Phil looked up into her face. It says a great deal about courage, mistress. To face ones own self is a very brave thing to do.
Maybe so, Phil. We sure need some. She leaned down and whispered, as if keeping some ancient secret. But, you know what I think? Phil shook his head. I think up until now, this world was just too boring. Now theres just too many neat things going on to squabble among ourselves anymore. Her smile brought one out in Phil too. Aunt Laurie looked back at the table and hugged Phil again. Come on, Phil, Ill help you collect up these books. We have to be getting back to the farm and check on those lovebirds soon. Todays the fourth day.
Will I have enough time to read one more book?
Why not just take it with us? Ill check it out and drop it off later.
The idea of taking a book with him delighted Phil immensely. What to pick was a bit of a problem though. On a hunch, he keyed in the word Velorian into the computer. Surprisingly, one title came up. Phil trundled down the appropriate aisle and came back with his prize. Handing it up to Aunt Laurie, she read the title aloud.
The Anthology of the Aurora Universe. Gawd, I havent read this one for years! Good choice.
The two friends left the building, much to the relief of two very tired librarians who struggled with an overloaded cart of books for what they hoped was the last time.
Aunt Lauries home, that evening
The sun had long ago set when the twin torus began to slow their motion and fade. As they did, they shrunk in diameter, passing harmlessly through the outer walls of the cottage and into the room from where they had begun. For a few brief moments after the rings disappeared, no sound came from the cottage. Finally, two loud thuds were heard and the silence returned.
Aunt Laurie had watched the ending of the Gift from the kitchen window with a warm smile on her aging face. To no one in particular, she softly spoke one word.
Suddenly, a loud bellowing voice came from the living room.
Aunt Laurie! What about that beer?
Disgusted at the interruption, Aunt Laurie mumbled heatedly as she hobbled over to the refrigerator.
Oh, for chrissakes, cant have you dying of thirst or anything. Retrieving a cold can of beer from the fridge, she returned to the living room where Williams bother, Robert, lounged on the sofa.
Hey, thanks, Aunt Laurie! I was just telling ol Phil here about my adventures in the military.
And hes still conscious? Hes tougher than he looks. Aunt Laurie slumped into her favorite chair, letting out a long sigh of relief. Robert only waved her wisecrack away and turned to Phil again.
Its been like this all my life, little guy. She just doesnt understand how sensitive I really am. Robert had just gotten the last words out before a loud belch escaped his mouth. Aunt Laurie rolled her eyes, looking to the ceiling as if asking for strength.
Yep, like last week when I didnt feel so good. It wasnt anything, but Aunt Laurie had an ambulance dragging me into that hospital. She didnt even ask me if I wanted to go! She just about had those folks hijack me! And then, to make matters worse, she tells the docs at the hospital to run every test they got! I was there for a whole week and they found nothin! Very embarrassing to a sensitive guy like me, ya know? The empty beer can was immediately crushed and flung into a nearby wastebasket. Shit, look at the time! I gotta go! A whole week in the hospital screwed up my business royally! Gotta get to Denver tonight! Cant wait for Will and Lilly. Whered they go? Aunt Laurie just shrugged.
They didnt say, Rob. Theyre out there somewhere. Come on, Ill see you out.
Arm in arm, Rob and Aunt Laurie walked to the front door. He opened it and turned back to her, his ever-present smile a little larger than usual. They hugged warmly as they had hundreds if not thousands of times over his lifetime. But before he could leave, he had a secret to share with her.
Why dont you let me in on it the next time you want me to play sick. Id do it, ya know. You dont have to have me hijacked. Aunt Laurie patted his cheek lovingly and returned his warm smile.
Couldnt take the chance, Rob. Too much at stake. Sorry.
Robert nodded. No problem, Aunt Laurie. Anytime, anywhere, you know that. I hope it worked out. Tell me about it someday? Love you.
Love you too, dear. Safe trip. Robert turned and hurried to his car, yelling loudly over his shoulder, Nice meeting you, Philbert!
Aunt Laurie closed the front door and went into the living room to shut off the lamps for the night. Behind her, Phil followed slowly, deep in thought. Turning off the last lamp removed all light from the room, except for the light spilling in through the archway where Phil stood silently. When Aunt Laurie came out of the darkness of the living room, she paused with Phil in the arch. Their dark silhouettes cast shadows within a bright outline of the arch, slanting away on the living room carpet. She sensed he had a question.
You fabricated a story to get the William to come back to Terra?
No, Phil, I used a situation that came up to best advantage.
For what purpose, mistress?
For William and for Lillith, Phil. It was time for her. The way William described her in his letters. The way I knew they loved each other. It all pointed to her estrus and something had to be done. I knew they would never come here together without good reason. If I would have told them about the Gift and all of this, they would never have come. But I know William and when it comes to family, theres no stopping him.
That is quite true. He was most insistent. But why here? Would not the Mistress and the William have been able to experience the Gift on Tetra? Aunt Laurie smiled and shook her head.
Think what might have happened if they did, Phil. Neither one of them knew anything about any of this. Do you think they would have been scared, confused, or worse? What I saw happen out there would have scared the shit outta me, I can tell you. Phil nodded. Im not even sure they would have been able to activate the gene properly. She needed help and support. I had to be sure, Phil.
So, you purposely left out details concerning his brothers condition in order to let the Williams imagination and concern bring him through millions of light years to his home planet with the Mistress in order to make use of your knowledge of an ancient and little known Velorian genetic manifestation that redirects energy from the Universe into enhancing and prolonging their sexual experience and allows the Mistress to conceive?
Aunt Laurie turned and started to climb the stairs to her bedroom.
Dont be silly, Phil. Im just a little old lady from Illinois.
Phil watched as Aunt Laurie slowly ascended the stairs. He spoke softly, letting the words only reflect the thoughts in his mind.
No more powerful force in the Universe....
Aunt Laurie may or may not have heard him, but at the top of the stairs, she paused and spoke down to him.
Its late, Phil, and Mr. Lincoln is getting cold. Tomorrow will be most interesting, dont you think? Have a good night.
And the warmest of good nights to you, Mistress Aunt Laurie.
Shock of the Other continues.....
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