Hal Logan, a recent graduate of Hofstra University, sat alone on the porch of his grandparent’s upstate mountain home—Meadowlands—relaxing in the cool, May evening air, sipping his coffee, and contemplating his upcoming future as a high school science teacher this coming fall.
That Monday morning, May 8, he had driven upstate from Long Island, alone in his Pathfinder. Driving was not a problem as he used his left hand to steer with, and his deformed right hand, in its fiberglass cast, as a guide. His crooked right foot, also in a fiberglass cast, did not affect his use of the pedals, but if he had to brake hard, the pain could be substantial, and he would switch to his left foot. His best friend, Billy Jenkins, would drive up on Friday afternoon with Hal’s girlfriend, Sophia, who would see the place for the first time. They would all spend a couple of days going over the estimates deciding which contractors to hire. Billy would leave for home on Sunday night, and Hal and Sophia would remain to work on their resumes and job applications and get them ready to be mailed out, or emailed, if the balky Internet connection ever functioned correctly.
And then they would be alone, away from school and family, and be able to get down to some serious lovemaking. Hal had joked the reason he wanted to be alone with Sophia at Meadowlands was not for her lovemaking—he said he knew she was a wonderful lover—but the desire to see if she could prepare a decent meal for her future husband. She had looked at him incredulously and said, “Are you saying you’d rather eat than make love?”
“Hey,” he had said, “there are scads of girls who can screw, but can they cook?”
Shaking her head, she rapped him on the shoulder and said, “That was a crude remark. Sometimes I wonder about men. You sound just like Billy.”
Who was eyeing up your sister last Saturday, but he wisely kept that thought to himself.
Now, as he sat in the rocker enjoying the evening, watching the birds zip back and forth, especially a colorful pair of cardinals flitting around the birdbath, he realized the sun had set, and an evening chill was setting in. Coffee mug precariously balanced on his bad hand, Hal braced himself with his good arm on the rocker and rose to go inside. As he turned toward the door he saw a flash of light and heard a loud whump coming from the side yard, as though something had suddenly fallen out of the sky. A meteorite, he wondered? Dropping the mug he grabbed his cane, and as fast as he was capable of, shuffled off the deck and hobbled into the side-yard. Oh my God! It was a plane crash! No, more like a helicopter crash. And it was burning!
* * *
Hal felt the intense heat as he approached the chopper, noticing the unusual color of the flames—bluish-white, not the yellowish-orange he would have expected from flaming jet fuel. And there was no kerosene odor at all, but a slight smell of a blown electric circuit reached his nose. But as Hal got closer, his heart dropped. The sole occupant inside the bubble was struggling, and it looked like he couldn’t get out.
He threw his cane down and limped as fast as he could through the searing heat toward the partly open door of the chopper. He grabbed the door handle with his good hand and screamed in pain as his palm seared on the hot metal. As he wrenched it free, charred and smoking, the door opened wide. He reached in with his left hand, despite the agonizing pain of the burn, and grabbed the man inside around his upper arm. With one mighty, desperate lunge backward, he pulled him out. Hal’s left arm, and the left side of his face, were now badly singed as he stutter-stepped away in agony from the fire, retching at the odor of his burned flesh. Dragging the pilot’s body, he got him thirty feet away from the raging inferno, where they both collapsed on the cool, damp grass.
And it was not a moment too soon. As he and the pilot lay there gasping for air, the chopper exploded in a bright blue flash, but with hardly any sound, just a smothered whoosh. As Hal got up on his knees, his breathing began to return to normal. The pilot rolled over onto his side, and then he too got on his knees. He managed to stand up and reached out his hand to help Hal get to his feet. “Thank you for pulling me out of there,” he said. “You no doubt saved my life. Are you injured?”
“I guess I’ll live, but I’m burned on my left hand, left arm, and left side of my face. It hurts like hell. You look like you’re burned badly, too. Let’s get into the house and I’ll try to get help if the damn cell phone can put through a 9-1-1 call. We both need to get to a hospital fast.”
“Help is on the way,” the pilot said. “I called as I was going down. They’ll be here shortly.”
“Okay, let’s get inside and get a drink of water while we wait for them to arrive. I’m Hal Logan.”
“My name is Manator. I’d love to have some water.”
“Yeah, and I might need something stronger to ease this pain.”
Arm in arm they struggled into the house, and Hal managed to get two bottles of Poland Spring water out of the fridge. “I’m afraid I don’t have the strength to open them,” he said. “Now I have two bum hands.”
“What’s wrong with your other hand?” Manator asked, as he unscrewed the bottle caps, passing one bottle over to Hal.
They sat down on the sofa, and as Hal took the bottle he said, “I was in an auto—” but the rest of the words stuck in his throat as he saw the hand handing him the bottle had six fingers on it. Six long fingers, all colored a light blue. Hal took a long swallow, looked at Manator and said, “I was in an auto accident a few years ago. I still limp badly as you might have noticed, and my right hand is almost useless.”
“I noticed that. Does it pain you badly?”
“Sometimes. Uh, Manator, you’re not from around here, are you?”
“No,” he answered, rolling his eyes, as a small grin appeared on his face, a blue face similar in features to Hal’s.
“From a galaxy far, far, away?”
Manator shook his head and said, “No, this galaxy—our galaxy.”
As Hal was going to ask more questions, two men entered the house. “Hello, Father,” Manator said sheepishly.
The father shook his head at his son in obvious disapproval and addressed the man next to him. “Dr. Fotal, please check these two out.”
“Father,” Manator said, “This is Hal Logan. He just saved my life.”
“Thank you immensely,” he said. “I am Calixu, and although I am happy my son is alive, I am extremely peeved he crashed and destroyed a valuable vehicle—a crash that should not have occurred.”
“Not now,” he said. “I will deal with you later. Let Dr. Fotal attend to you now. Oh, Mr. Logan, Dr. Fotal is our ship’s chief surgeon.”
Dr. Fotal reached into his satchel and withdrew a red can, took the cap off, and sprayed the burned areas of Manator’s body. He did the same on Hal’s burned arm and face, and the pain miraculously disappeared. “Thank you, sir,” Hal said.
“That’s a temporary fix. When we get you on board, my team will heal you up properly.”
On board? Heal me up properly? Hal looked at the doctor and Manator’s father more closely. Both seemed to be about five feet ten, with slim builds, and the same skin coloring as Manator’s—a light blue, maybe with a tinge of violet in it—and similar six-fingered hands. Neither of them had head or facial hair that he could see, and their ears were more like holes at the sides of their heads with little external skin surrounding them. Their lips and mouths were similar to his and their eyes were larger, more oval-shaped, and of a deep violet shade. Hal guessed the men to be in their mid-forties and Manator to be about eighteen. They appeared not much different from those extraterrestrial beings described by science-fiction writers for decades, he thought.
Calixu said, “Let’s get going now,” and started out the door. Hal, wondering if they would bring him back from wherever they were taking him, struggled up off the sofa and began to follow him outside. Dr. Fotal noticed Hal’s limp and grabbed him under the arm to assist him in the short walk to where a black, oval-shaped vehicle hovered about three feet above the grass with a ramp extending down. Just like in the books and movies. He and the doctor walked up the ramp and sat on cushioned benches curving around the interior. Manator and Calixu, privately speaking with each other, also took seats as the ramp swung upward. Hal noticed there were no seatbelts, and figured he would now take the opportunity to ask some questions of the space aliens, for he had no doubts that was exactly what they were. And they seemed trustworthy, but he was going who knew where, and who knew how far…
But before he could open his mouth, Calixu arose, the ramp descended, and he headed out the door. Had he forgotten something back at Hal’s house? Manator and Dr. Fotal got up to follow Calixu and Hal said, “What’s going on?”
“We have arrived at our main vehicle,” Manator said.
“The mother ship?”
“You could call it that,” Manator said, with a grin on his handsome blue face.
“How could we have gotten here so fast? And where are we?”
“We arrived via a small quantum leap, and we are beyond the orbit of Pluto.”
Hal nodded and said, “You guys are definitely not from around here, are you?”
“We will explain what is necessary in due time,” Calixu said, as he assisted Hal out of the craft. “Our team of doctors and surgeons is getting prepared to fix you two up. First things first, and then we’ll talk.”
* * *
As they walked down a beige carpeted hallway, a pair of double doors opened on the left side and two self-propelled cushioned chairs rolled silently out. Dr. Fotal motioned for Hal and Manator to sit in them, and he said, “I’ll see you in the operating room.”
The chairs glided through those doors and stopped in front of another pair of double doors. What Hal guessed was an operating room nurse came out of the doors, walked over to Manator and said, “Please inhale this.” She placed what looked like an oxygen mask over his face and he followed her instruction, inhaling deeply.
After ten seconds, she removed the mask and stepped next to Hal who glanced over at the sleeping Manator. “Please inhale this,” she said, eyeing him up and down.
Hal grinned and said, “Bet you never saw anyone quite like me before?”
“On the contrary, Mr. Logan. I have had many encounters with beings from your strange planet.”
When he opened his mouth to answer her, she placed the mask over his nose and mouth and said, “Inhale deeply, please.”
That was the last thing he remembered until he woke up in a comfortable reclining chair, dressed in some sort of pajama suit that was cinched at the waist. The material was soft on his skin and of a light yellow color. Soft yellow slippers were on his feet and he realized he had no sense of time, of how long he had been under anesthesia. One thing he realized was that he was not in pain anywhere on his entire body. He glanced at the palm of his left hand. The singed flesh was healed nicely. He pushed up his left sleeve and the burns on his arm were also healed. His right wrist and hand felt different. He looked down and noticed the fiberglass cast was missing and the wrist was no longer bent. He flexed the hand and wrist and then made a fist. No pain. He made fists with both hands, flexing and un-flexing them, not only in amazement but in sheer joy.
The door opened and a similarly dressed Manator walked into the room. He said, “It’s about time you woke up.”
“How long was I out?”
“Incredible. Dr. Fotal and his team healed up all my burns that fast?”
“Your burns were fixed in ten minutes, as were mine. Father asked them to fix the rest of you, too. That’s what took so long.”
“Do you mean my hand and wrist? They feel great. I can’t believe they are healed.”
“Yes, your wrist, your hand, and your ankle and foot, and the rest of your damaged and ill-repaired skeletal structure. They removed all those chunky metal pins and rods and plastic in your body. Straightened everything out. Made you as good as new. Better than new.”
Hal looked down at his right foot as he gingerly stepped out of the chair. It was no longer crooked. And it no longer hurt. He walked over to Manator and grabbed him in a hug repeating, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Manator was taken aback by Hal’s show of affection, but returned the hug tentatively, and patted Hal on his back. “Come,” he said, “we’ll get some food and drink, and go see father.”
“You don’t seem too thrilled about that,” Hal said.
“He is not happy with the destruction of that explorer. I hope he accepts my explanation.”
“And if he doesn’t, what type of punishment can you expect?”
“Grounding,” he said, with a frown on his face.
“Just like on Earth,” Hal said. “By the way, where exactly in our galaxy are you guys from?”
“Father will explain what he wants you to know. I could tell you more, but he has warned me not to. I don’t want to get him angrier with me than he is.”
“I can understand that. Oh, you said food?”
There were several other people—blue aliens—in what Hal assumed was the ship’s cafeteria, and a few of them glanced up curiously at him as he and Manator entered and sat down at a table. Manator took a small, square, silver device out of his pocket and said, “I’ll order for both of us; it would take me too long to explain the many choices. Rest assured, it will be tasty and nutritious.”
“No ground up Earthlings in there, I hope?”
Manator smiled and said, “No, they are not too tasty; the meat needs too much tenderizing and spicing up.”
Hal looked at him and said, “Not funny, Manator.”
“I’m trying to emulate your human sense of humor, one of the few positive characteristics your race possesses.”
As Hal was thinking of a nasty retort, a square mechanical device rolled up next to their table. The top opened and plates of food and drinks popped out and were placed on the table by mechanical appendages. Cutlery and napkins were similarly dispensed, and the device’s top folded closed and it scooted away. “Impressive,” Hal said as he undid his napkin and picked up a fork similar to those at home.
“Dig in, Hal,” Manator said, as he pointed to the item on Hal’s plate which appeared to be a four by six by two inch chunk of vanilla pound cake.
Whatever it was, it was delicious and of a variety of flavors, some familiar to Hal’s taste buds. They washed the food down with a fizzy orange drink, tasting like a mixture of fruits and berries, again some familiar, and some not.
When they finished, the square robot came back and cleaned up the table in a few seconds. “My mother and my future wife would sure love one of those,” Hal said.
“How old are you?” Manator asked.
“Almost twenty-three. And you?”
“Seventeen. That’s about 347 Earth years.”
“Yes, and father is 1,232 Earth years old.”
“So you’re a wild teenager, and daddy is mad because you wrecked the car?”
“Explorer vehicle, and yes, daddy is highly pissed.”
“How do you know English so well?”
“I don’t. We use a personal translation device. I’m speaking our language, but to your ears it comes out in American Idiomatic English.”
“Yeah, we have devices like that, too. The Frenchman speaks French, but I hear English coming out of the device.”
“We better go. I can’t put this off forever.”
“Hey, I’ll try to help you out. I was a dopey teenager not too long ago myself.”
They left the cafeteria and when they entered the hallway, Manator pressed a button on his square device and a two-seat, sofa-like vehicle appeared. They sat down, Manator pressed another button, and the sofa moved down the hallway at a nice clip—maybe twenty miles-per-hour, Hal figured.
“It’s too long to walk to father’s office from here,” Manator said.
“How big is this ship?”
“About one of your Earth miles long and a half-mile wide.”
“And you said it is beyond Pluto’s orbit?”
“Yes, well outside of your solar system.”
“So as not to be detected?”
“And we got here instantaneously?”
“No, less than that—in a quantum leap.”
“I can’t wrap my head around that, Manator. The quantum mechanics I know about—still somewhat impossible to grasp—applies only on the subatomic level.”
“Let’s say your people have a long way to go. Come, we are here.”
“Is your dad the ship’s captain?”
“No, he is the ship’s Chief Scientific and Exploration Officer.”
“And how should I properly address him?”
“Respectfully, by name. Put your Earthly sense of humor on hold, please—for my sake.”
”You got it, partner. I hope it all goes well for you.”