Illegal Alien, page 1
A short story
Table of Contents
The Reality Thief
“So, do you live here or are you just visiting?”
If only I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked that one. Maybe the guy was a little nervous. After all, not everyone likes the view, thirty stories straight down through the diamond-reinforced glass floor of Café Diverte: Las Nubes. I go there to be among the tourists when I’m feeling sociable. Though I have to admit I rarely feel sociable enough to actually sit among them, near the middle of the tower. That’s where the floor is opaque and visitors huddle safely away from the vertigo-inspiring outer terraza.
Still, it’s only polite to answer a direct question, even when it’s shot at you from a table away. “I’ve lived here off and on for a couple hundred years,” I said, pointing to a ten-story building on the other side of the Rio Tomebamba. “That’s my place. Torre de la Madre. I live in the penthouse.”
“Nice view, I bet.”
“It is,” I had to admit.
“What do you pay for rent, if you don’t mind my asking?”
That made me laugh. “I would’ve moved out of here long ago, if that question bothered me. You know that’s the second most common thing Cuencanos ask newcomers? Has been for at least half a millennia. Anyway, I don’t rent; I bought the place long ago. Picked it up for a song during the Great Repression.”
I didn’t tell him I owned the entire building, not just the top floor. I didn’t tell him I’d built it on an old parqueadero I’d finally managed to wrest from the toughest-negotiating Cuencano family I’d ever known. I didn’t tell him I’d always hated that parking lot and wished the city had just expropriated the place centuries ago.
I also didn’t mention that before they let me build, the Mayor’s office forced me to buy the adjacent property, that aging jewel, Parque de la Madre, from the city. Lucky for me, that was the year the Kats first landed and changed everything forever. They knocked the crap out of Earth’s financial system, that’s for sure, so the city was pretty desperate. I admit I let the Mayor overcharge me on that deal. Hey, what can I say? I’ve always had a soft spot for Cuenca.
At least I got a gorgeous piece of parkland right near the river for the price. Of course, I immediately opened it up to everyone and hired staff to take care of it. I mean, we’d practiced Tai Chi there for over fifty years. We’d watched athletes training; kids and parents playing; street dogs begging; and lovers smooching beneath its trees for at least that long. The park belonged to the people, even if they couldn’t afford it anymore.
But I didn’t say any of that. Even after all my time here, I still like keeping my private business private.
“So what do you recommend as a must see?” the guy asked.
I pointed past him. “Have you been to the new New Cathedral?” The three blue domes atop the brick edifice beside Parque Calderon half-a-dozen blocks away were higher than the café, in keeping with the ancient decree that no buildings in the old El Centro district rise above the holy center. “They pulled the whole cathedral apart and rebuilt it brick by brick at the top of the fifty-story Torre Central a hundred years ago.” Another hotly-contested, over-time, over-budget project but, to their credit, they finally finished the original bell towers once the whole thing stood on a more solid foundation. It still looked like it was built in the 1800s, but now it’s strength and integrity came from a structure of nanocomposite, bioceramic building materials in place of the old mortar and adobe, mixed by hand many generations ago, and lovingly applied with the blood, sweat and tears of the early parishioners.
The guy just looked at me. “Everyone goes there. It’s the first thing on the tour.”
“Right,” I replied, Well, in that case, I’m sure you’ve seen the museum and the ruins.”
“They were great. I didn’t realize they still make shrunken heads like that.”
They don’t; not really. Or, not like they used to. But every now and then, someone near the end of their long life chooses to be immortalized by one of the Amazonian tribes in the traditional manner. Nobody dies who doesn’t want to, and nobody suffers, just to keep a fresh supply of the horrible reminders of prehistoric tribal wars.
“What about you?” I changed the subject. “Do you live here, too?”
The guy paused. A weird look came over his face. He opened and closed his mouth in a couple of false starts, obviously struggling with himself, searching for the best answer.
That’s odd—I thought. It wasn’t a tough question. He must have been asked this a dozen times. What’s the hangup?
“Yes, and no,” he offered.
He wasn’t going to make this easy on me. “Oh, you’re past your three years so you’re away a lot,” I guessed.
It was a decent guess; lots of people do that, travel out of country once they’ve got permanent status. I’ve been known to spend a year at a time out at the vacation resorts in the asteroid belt, myself.
“Not really. The longest trip I’ve taken was this last one, just three months.”
He was starting to bug me. I don’t care much for mysteries. He stood up from his table and walked over to mine. “May I sit?” he asked. I nodded and he took a seat beside me, intimate like.
He leaned a little closer, “I sort of snuck in this last time.”
“What do you mean? They didn’t stamp your passport coming down the Space Shaft in Quito?”
“Sure they did, though I had a heck of a time figuring out what they wanted.”
“Yeah, the language barrier can be tough.”
“It can be. It’s hard to figure out what you guys want sometimes.”
You guys? “Hey, don’t look at me. I speak seven languages, a few of them not even human.”
That seemed to impress him, at least a bit. “So you’ve travelled outsystem?”
“Sure. Old Sol gets a little tired after a century. There’s a wide universe out there, now that the Cetians sold us their FTL technology.” Travel among the stars was still expensive, but the Faster-Than-Light drive made it feasible, at least once in a lifetime.
He nodded. “Ever been to Mycei?”
I’d never even heard of it, but something about the way he said it made me pause and look it up. I plugged into the net—direct to neural interface, you know, privilege of the wealthy—and found...nothing.
“Does the place even exist?” I asked him. “I can’t find it on Google-hoo.”
“It’s not well known, but it does exist,” he answered. “In fact, you are looking at our first citizen to travel to this planet.”
The guy appeared perfectly normal to me. Perfectly human, that is. I looked for his tinfoil hat.
He saw where my eyes had traveled and laughed. “I assure you, I am quite sane,” he said.
But they all say that.
“I admit that I look just like one of you. Or rather, part of me, the outer part, looks human. My host, this body, travelled to our system on a science mission last year. We’re a peaceful people, but one can’t have just anyone trampling all over your nervous system without doing something.”
He lost me on that one. “Uhh...yeah, I suppose not. And...what kind of nervous system would that be?”
“Oh, right. The life on our home planet—Mycei’s not its real name, as you might have guessed—is basically one big organism. Think your human concept of Gaia crossed with a fungal nervous system.”
“Ah, hence the name, Mycei. I get it. A cute reference to mycelia, the mushroom family?”
“Strictly speaking, the reference is to the most important part of such organisms. My people weave enormous mats of sensory and cognitiv
“People? I thought you said it was one big organism.”
“It’s hard to explain; we are both many and one.”
My jaw almost hit the transparent floor. I shut it fast and did some hard thinking.
If we could build a poly-organic, semiconducting lattice to occupy the spaces between neurons and help us think better, who was to say what kind of biological intelligence could develop on the thousands of life-bearing planets we’d already visited? Earth was full of symbiotic life forms, just not many of them took up residence inside a human brain.
I knew it was important to stay cool around newcomers, especially those from off-planet. Most especially aliens. “So...are you just visiting? Or are you planning to stay?”
He laughed, I wasn’t sure why, and choked on a bit of spittle. I guess whoever was calling the shots inside hadn’t quite got everything coordinated yet.
“I think we’ll stay awhile. I mean, my host is at home here already. And I’m starting to meet new people, make new friends. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Community?”
I had a feeling he meant something different by “community” than I did. I put out a lattice call to the Policia, to tell them we had a possible situation with an extranjero, a foreigner.
Just as I linked in, the guy coughed in my direction. He didn’t even bother covering his mouth. Mal educado gringo. I ignored his bad manners and continued our conversation while my call rang through. “Yes, Diverte is a good place to start building community. It gets a pretty diverse clientele.”
An alarm went off in my head. Aggressive bio-intruder detected–my defensive nanoware reported. Initiating counter-measures. Now that couldn’t have been a coincidence. I squinted at the guy. “You know that design trumps evolution every time, right?”
He looked like he had no idea what I was talking about. “Excuse me?”
“If you want to make friends with people, it’s probably best not to release spores in their direction, without their permission. No one likes having their body and brain invaded. I can only assume your host agreed to your arrangement. Most people won’t. And you might not like the result.”
He looked like the proverbial cat caught with his paw in the canary cage. “It’s been the way of my people for as long as we can remember,” he mumbled.
“Yeah, well don’t do it here. Most of us have enough protective measures to resist your spores. And you might come across someone with the latest upgrades. They can trace the invading organism back to its source and eradicate it.”
I let that sink in. You could see when the realization hit him. “You wouldn’t.”
“I have my systems under conscious control. For others, it’s automatic. If they found the source of the infection, they would eliminate you from your host.”
His very human face blanched. “You would kill me?”
“Some people might consider what you’re attempting to be much the same thing. We humans value our intellectual independence.”
“In that case, I’m glad I met you before encountering any such humans.”
“Yeah. That was a stroke of luck,” I replied as my defensive nanoware reported—All clear. I sent a quick note to the Policia that I had the situation under control. Just then, one of Cuenca’s finest stepped off the elevator. His finger went to his earpiece. He saw me watching him and waved his acknowledgement, then turned right back around.
He almost knocked my wife over as she got off the elevator behind him.
I excused myself from my conversation and went over to greet her. “Hey, honey. Nice recovery. Come over here. There’s someone I want you to meet.”
“I think he will be. I hope so, for his sake.”
- The End -
Thank you for reading this short story. If you enjoyed it, I hope you’ll read on for a preview of my full-length novel The Reality Thief (available at a special discount on amazon.com).
The Reality Thief
Book One in the Deplosion series
In the beginning was the Chaos. The Chaos was infinite and eternal, dark and silent. It didn’t roil with turbulent fire or explosions for there was nothing to burn, no oxygen to fuel the flames, no hydrogen atoms to fuse in the hearts of stars, no uranium atoms to split. The physical laws that made chemical and nuclear reactions possible didn’t exist, at least not in any consistent manner.
But the Chaos was not inert, quite the contrary. Endless experiments played out among the random virtual particles emerging spontaneously from the nothingness of the quantum vacuum. They arose in pairs, balancing positive and negative energy, matter and antimatter. They disappeared with no enduring effect, no more than inconsequential ripples in the fields, soon-forgotten perturbations.
Why were there virtual particles? Why was there anything? Because there always had been. The strains of the infinite quantum vacuum were relieved by producing virtual particles. That was reason enough.
The Chaos had always been, even though nothing in it had ever existed, not strictly speaking, not even for a nanosecond. In the absence of consistent causal relationships between different bits of virtual matter, Time’s Arrow had no direction; its measure was meaningless. It would be pointless to think about what came before, since “before” was an endless recess of immeasurable time, never reachable.
The timelessness of the Chaos allowed unlimited opportunity for every possible kind of virtual particle to come into existence. Random chance led to diversity among the particles. Physical laws rose out of the evolutionary clay of the Chaos and were spread by resonances between neighboring virtual particles. Where resonances overlapped, standing waves formed, causing real particles to be born and releasing excess energy. The real particles gave rise to self-propagating clusters, tiny islands of budding reality in a virtual ocean. Islands of real matter grew outward, transforming the Chaos.
Where particle interactions led to domains of greater stability, those regions expanded. Simple, short-lived universes were born and collapsed, their histories lost forever. Stability provided the selective pressure through which the universe evolved naturally from the Chaos.
The tumultuous experiments continued unbridled until two particularly stable domains came together, their resonances uniquely complementary. The rate of formation of real matter accelerated. From virtual nothingness, new matter exploded into existence, releasing tremendous energy in the process. The resonances expanded outward faster than the speed of light, driving Creation into the void. Space grew hotter and hotter. Out of the nowhere and nothing, out of the eternal and infinite Chaos, the universe unfolded like a fiery, blossoming flower.
Sharon Leigh’s hand trembled as the syringe met her bare arm. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
I’m not doing anything wrong. The FDA and university bureaucrats are just trying to wear us down. Peer reviews, teaching reviews, funding reviews, ethics reviews. Why won’t they just let us work in peace? They know it’s safe; they have all the data they need.
She exhaled and tried to relax. When she opened her blue-gray eyes, she was ready. Determined. She’d rolled the left sleeve of her lab coat up past the elbow. The thin vein was barely visible beneath the skin but she knew she could find it with the sharp tip of the needle.
Years of practice finding the tail veins of rats has served me well. She pictured her arm as a big, scaly tail, and laughed. It came out as a nervous snort that threatened to break into something bigger.
Okay, get a grip, and get on with it. She took another slow breath. The lab was brightly lit but quiet, except for the gentle hum of equipment. She could hear herself breathing. The last of her grad students had wandered off a few hours ago, and the cleaners weren’t due until 2:00 a.m., a full hour away.
She perched on the edge of a stool at the lab bench farthest from the door, where it would be difficult for anyone to
Beside the rack in front of her, an empty plastic centrifuge tube lay on its side, its hinged lid popped open: DNND 3.2-003. This was their newest version, the one that would lead to real success.
Am I crazy?—she asked herself for the hundredth time—or just too impatient? She knew the risks better than anyone. It was her invention, after all. After four long years of playing around the edges, it was time for a proper test. A human test.
She pressed the needle to her skin at a shallow angle, to better follow the vein underneath. Her skin dimpled under the pressure.
The lab door banged opened, and the clatter of the janitor’s tin pail on wheels followed.
Sharon jumped and let out a small yelp. The needle pricked her arm, drawing a miniscule bead of blood.
“Oh, sorry,” the cleaner called out in the direction of the yelp. He caught a sliver of white lab coat in the back of the room, barely visible behind the benches and the clutter of equipment. “I thought everyone had gone home.”
“That’s alright,” Sharon replied. She put her finger over the tiny nick and pressed against it. “I’m kind of in the middle of something, though. Could you come back in ten minutes?”
The man craned his neck to get a better look at who was doing the asking. It sounded like Dr. Leigh, but he wasn’t sure. Scientists. He stared at his bucket and mop, trying to come up with a good reason why he shouldn’t alter his schedule. “Sure, I guess I could do Dr. Strauss’ lab first.”
“Thanks. I’ll just be a few minutes.”
He gripped the mop handle and steered the bucket back into the hallway, letting it bump against the hard surfaces a little harder than usual. The door closed gently behind him.
Sharon took another deep breath. She dabbed a cotton swab in the ethanol and wiped the drop of blood from her arm. Pressing her lips together, she pushed the needle into her arm. It stung a little, but not as much as she’d expected. Here goes nothing.
Other author's books:
- The Reality IncursionThe Reality Rebellions
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