The little town lay cradled in absolute night. Jenny, walking the quarter mile distance between her house and the school, made a grunt of annoyance as the street and house lights gave a momentary blink and then went out. There was no moon, and only the stars scattered brilliantly across the sky relieved the darkness.
She stood quite still and allowed her eyes to adjust, aided by the dim and temporary glow of candles and lamps. Irritated but not helpless, the inhabitants of the town had sought light. Slowly but determinedly, Jenny continued towards the school buildings. As she fumbled the key of her room into its lock, behind her the street lights came on again and she smiled as she reached out her hand and switched on the classroom lights.
A pool of brightness spilled through the window. Nobody was there to see it sparkle and reflect momentarily off the gleaming four metre soft sphere that lay bulging on the grass. Seconds later the shape dissipated into apparent nothingness and one of its two occupants smiled an alien smile and patted a transparent and invisible emptiness.
Jenny tidied the piles of paper and books and assorted bits and pieces on her table. Then she gathered white and coloured chalks and piled them into a box and set dusters straight. She regarded the grouped desks thoughtfully, visualising them arranged differently. Then she looked at her watch and sighed. If she started that, she'd be here half the night! She picked up a bundle of books and left the room, turning the lights off and locking the door behind her.
She crossed the verandah and took half a dozen steps across the dark playground, then stopped and frowned, aware in her peculiar mind of unseen watchers beside the end of the building. The alien eyes rested upon her, two pairs of them, bright in the darkness, and she shivered and stood very still. Then an expression of awareness and bliss stole over her plain face and she was almost beautiful.
When she turned and watched as the two alien forms moved towards her there was a welcoming smile on her face and in her eyes.
And also in her mind.
Telepaths are very rare and seem to be rarer even than they actually are. Ignorance, disbelief and intolerance all combine to force the telepath to hide within the shell of his or her mind, usually for an entire lifetime. In childhood they learn very quickly to conceal a talent - or a curse - that terrifies the norm, whatever that norm may be. Not surprisingly, with minds open to every normally hidden emotion, true telepaths suffer a very high rate of mental problems. Sometimes they are saddened and depressed by the emotions and thoughts with which they are daily inundated. Some commit suicide rather than listen, for a lifetime, unintentionally and unavoidably, to the normally hidden cries of their fellow human beings.
A very lucky few manage to shut out the daily babble around them and they learn serenity and acceptance. And very very few, like Jenny Grey, adapt to life and live it as it should be lived. She was thirty, a plain but happy person, a gentle dreamer who lived among and loved children.
She had hoped for so many years to encounter a mind such as her own, but when that encounter finally did come it was with an alien mind and not a human one. It was with one of the two occupants of the ship that had floated down to the planetary surface in the gleaming bubble that lay concealed now in darkness and invisibility.
Unintentionally, they had caused a minor power disruption to the small town. Fortunately, it had done no damage and neither had it betrayed their presence.
//I have waited and hoped all my life for this.//
Jenny stood and waited, as she was approached in the darkness by she did not rightly know who or what. What she did know was that the alien was bringing her the joy of mental contact. For that, she would cope with anything else.
Imagine an alien. A being from another planet. What form would you give it? Humanoid, biped, many legged? Eyes, ears, arms and legs? Tentacles, antennae, multi limbed sinuosity? Let your imagination run wild. Terrans have always been adept at dreaming up the unknown, the horrible, the bizarre and even the beautiful.
Zetta, one half of the crew of the space vehicle that orbited, unseen and undetected, a thousand miles out in space, was almost human. In the darkness she might even have passed for a Terran, if one discounted the fact that each hand bore four fingers and two thumbs, and that her feet ended in six toes and not five. Her hair hung long and straight, and the soft white down on her body was unseen in the darkness. If there had been light, Jenny would have seen Zetta's skin to be a pale soft green, and her hair bright, almost emerald. Under the clothing she wore, the soft down thickened into a furry covering. Zetta was mammalian and humanoid, but her companion, the telepath whose mind had reached out in the dark to the human teacher, was far from human.
Kragda's people were reptilian. To a human the closest approximation of her appearance would be that of an intelligent pterodactyl, with bright and beady black eyes and dark leathery skin stretched over limbs that sprouted from a scaly body. At first glimpse she might even have been considered repellent, but under that ugly physical exterior dwelt a happy being, a rarity in the cosmos.
//We mean you no harm. Truly.//
Kragda's mind stretched out to reassure the woman who stood in the darkness. When she realised, with a start, that the Terran woman was replying also with her mind rather than her voice, Kragda fluttered her leathery wings in delight and uttered a sharp reptilian chortle.
//Zetta, she's a telepath! A human telepath!// The other woman smiled tolerantly.
"They are rare, Kragda. But not entirely unknown." Zetta stepped forwards and held out her pale oddly fingered hands. "We are visitors to your planet. We did not quite know what to expect. My name is Zetta, and this is Kragda."
Jenny nodded, slowly and in dawning realisation that she was no longer alone as she had always been.
"I - have to tell myself that I am not dreaming." Kragda chuckled.
//You do not dream this.// She hesitated. //Are you not afraid of the alien and the unknown?//
"No." Jenny looked at her, at the ugly reptile perched on the shoulder of the tall green skinned woman. "No, I'm not afraid. Why should I be?" It wasn't really a question and she waved her hand around. "It's dark here. I live just down the road. Will you come to my house?" Zetta smiled.
"We are happy to be invited." No one saw the trio as they walked without speaking along the dusty gravel roadway. Zetta was silent but she was aware of the mental exchanges that flew between Kragda and the human woman. Unlike the reptiloid woman, Zetta was not telepathic, although she was able to receive her companion's mental speech if Kragda so desired. And, unlike many Terrans, odd person out in a group of three, she did not feel left out. She knew of Kragda's loneliness, of the isolation she felt. She knew her friend felt herself bound within a repellent physical body and she rejoiced in her instant companionship with the human telepath.
For two telepaths to touch each other's minds is for them to achieve total awareness each of the other. With this awareness came knowledge and understanding. Jenny saw in her mind's eye both Kragda's home and the many planets the alien pair had visited. She saw their ship and their home and their friends. There was the black of the deep space they had traversed and the far stars on whose planets they had stood. Jenny was aware, as no one else had ever been, of the teeming life among the deepness and the distance of the cosmos.
And Kragda saw all of Jenny's life; her happinesses and her sorrows, her achievements and her triumphs and the great loneliness she could conceal from everyone else, but not from this new friend.
In Jenny's house Zetta sat down and smiled. Kragda had fluttered around the room and then squatted clumsily on the arm of her chair. Jenny blinked at them and then sat down, her face radiant.
"I - just never imagined that this sort of thing could ever happen. And certainly not to me." She tilted her head at Zetta. "You - do you - really speak English, or is there some - "
"It was not difficult to learn," Zetta said gently. "We have studied a number of the major tongues of your planet." She gave a soft laugh. "To be alien among human is difficult enough, but to be unable to communicate verbally would be a disaster." Jenny laughed.
"Have you met many humans?"
"A few." Zetta's eyes smiled. "But none like you." There was a shadow behind Jenny's expression.
"I - have always hoped there were others like me. Somewhere."
//You could always come with us.// Kragda suggested, and Jenny stared.
"What? Come with you? That's impossible."
"Why?" Kragda spoke aloud. Her voice was low and harsh, but not unpleasantly so to Jenny's ears. "Do you not ever feel the urge to spread your wings - figuratively speaking - and fly?"
"Often. Oh so very often." Jenny shook her head and looked rueful. "But - this is where I live. I belong here."
"Do you?" The black eyes were fixed on her. "I wonder about that."
"Kragda, enough, please." Zetta regarded her companion and looked back at Jenny. "The choice is yours. We offer it, but if you should not wish to leave this place, we would understand. It is your home planet. It's not easy to leave your home."
Kragda shook her dark head. "That is true. And no one else we have ever met really wanted to leave Earth." She fluttered over to the stereo. "Do you have music for this? I like Terran music. It would be very pleasant to hear some. Please."
Jenny smiled at her and stood up. "Of course. Ah, and what about something to eat or drink? Can you - would you - ?"
Zetta laughed, a gentle musical tone. "We have tested Terran food and drink. It has no ill effects on either of us. We would appreciate that, thank you."
The hours passed pleasantly, and Jenny could not help remembering at one stage the stories some of her class had written once on what they would do if an alien space ship had landed at the school. Many of the little boys had been enthusiastic about destroying the invaders, for as such had they seen them. Some of the children had written of being friends, and mostly they had been clearly influenced by television and films, their reactions depending on the specific films and television series to which they had been exposed.
She doubted if any other person in the town could conceive of calmly sitting in the living room of her house and making conversation with a green skinned woman and a pterodactyl. There were moments when Jenny herself found it difficult to believe in the reality of what she was doing.
The hours passed not only pleasantly but also all too quickly. Eventually Zetta stood up and Kragda fluttered to perch upon her shoulder. Zetta held out her pale green hand and Jenny took it.
//Will you come with us, Jenny?// Kragda asked and the Terran woman shook her head.
"I - don't think so, Kragda." She shook her head. "I really don't know. But I don't think it's something I could decide about very quickly. And whatever I decided, I suppose I'd regret it afterwards. People are like that, I'm afraid."
Zetta nodded, her pale eyes fixed on Jenny. "There is time. We must return to our ship, but we will not be leaving for some time. You can think about it, and make up your mind."
Jenny nodded. "I - appreciate your offer, but I really think it's quite impossible. This is my home. Where I was born."
//Where there is no one else like you.//
She shook her head and hoped she would be able to keep her tears back until they had gone.
Kragda fluttered around Zetta as the two aliens left her house and walked back to the school, to their small landing craft. They wished no one to see them and were unobserved in the night.
In her empty house Jenny Grey sat, alone and lonely. She had not for a long time felt lonely, having long since adjusted to the improbability of ever meeting anyone else like herself. But with her alien guests gone, she was tired and depressed. And she remembered what Kragda had told her silently: //There are others like you - maybe not here, but certainly out there, on other planets of the universe.//
In a cupboard, behind a jumble of jars and glasses and cooking utensils, she found a half empty bottle of vodka. She poured a generous measure into a glass and topped it up with orange juice and drank it straight down. With a second drink in her hand, she sat back on the lounge where earlier Zetta had sat, and sipped slowly.
Alone. She had always been alone, in spite of being among so many others. They were not like her. There were no other members of her family and no truly close friends. It's difficult to make close friends of other people when their minds are fixed on how they can make use of you, and you can see that clear fixation....
She let out a deep breath and wandered over to turn on the television, just in time to catch the late headlines. A political assassination, a pointless bomb blast in a crowded shopping centre, a bleak financial forecast and the normal political bickering between the world's leaders, grown men and women who should have known better. And a weather forecast of frost and rain. She grimaced and turned it off, then found a tape and put it on, sitting on the floor, her glass held absently in her hands.
The soothing and melancholy strains of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique drifted over her and she rubbed angrily at the tears that gathered unwanted in her eyes. Earth was beautiful. It was her home. She forced her mind to the greatness and the wonderful of the things people had created, the art and the music and the modern inventions. And the people....
Alone after having, albeit for such a short time, tasted true communication. She sat thoughtfully until the last notes of the music had died away and the tape had stopped. Jenny stood up and flipped idly through half a dozen of the school test books she had brought home. A tear dropped onto her hand and she brushed it away in irritation. Then she turned the stereo off and put the empty glass down carefully. In the doorway she turned and looked around the room slowly, noting every detail.
And then, head back and eyes shining, and now not merely with tears, she sent out a telepathic cry to Kragda and Zetta.
//Wait! Wait for me! I'm coming with you!//
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