Chapter 1: The abduction
The voice was deep and compelling, "Revekah, wake up."
She twisted and mumbled in protest. The dream was too good to turn away from. She was making love to her husband. She could not remember seeing his face so clearly in a dream in years. She did not want to lose that picture in her mind again. He had been dead for so long. The dream was more intense and more real than any she could remember ever having before. It had been so long. She wanted this; no, she needed this.
"Revekah, wake up."
As the dream wavered and faded, she wailed, "No!" When she woke she was sobbing in grief and frustration. She did not want to lose him again.
It took quite a while for her to realize she was not in her bed. It was too hard and there were no blankets. It was warm, very humid and there was the oddest smell, almost like the beach at low tide but there was also an acidic, almost astringent quality to the air. When she opened her eyes it was dark, absolutely deepest, pitch black dark. She tried to sit up but couldn't. Something was holding her down. And miraculously nothing hurt. She could not remember the last time nothing hurt. "Who are you?"
The voice was deep and seemed to come from all directions. "Ah, yes. You will need to name me. You may call me Xeno."
Carefully trying to move her body was fruitless. It was not just her arms and legs strapped down, or belts across her body. It was like she was evenly glued to the firm surface underneath her. She could not even move her fingers where they touched. Using her full strength she tried to break free, but there was no loosening. To her relief she could wiggle her toes and move her lips and tongue. Revekah wondered why she was not more frightened. "Okay, Xeno, where am I?"
"You are far from any point of reference that would have any meaning for you."
"Why am I tied down?"
"Tied? You are not tied down."
"Why can't I move?"
"Ah, yes. You are currently bonded to a horizontal surface to keep you from falling off."
"Can you unbond me?"
"It is possible, but would not be wise at this time."
"How come I am not scared?"
"You are currently under the influence of a chemical that inhibits you from feeling that emotion."
Inexplicably she began to giggle. "I guess that is a good thing, because this is fucking weird."
"Yes, Revekah, I am sure you have not had any similar experiences to relate this one to. It is best if we discuss this while you are less likely to panic."
"So are you going to tell me what is going on?"
"Yes, Revekah, currently you are on board an interstellar space craft. You have been taken from your home planet and are not going to return in the foreseeable future."
"That's crazy. I am old. I am so old, I am almost dead. Why on earth would you want an 86-year-old woman?"
"Revekah, I am interested in your mind. You have a very lovely mind."
Again she giggled, "Well, I knew it wasn't my sexy good looks." She had the random thought; at least that drug didn't mess around with her sense of humor. "So, what now?"
"Do you have any more questions?"
"Are you some kind of alien?"
"I am a species from a different star system. So that would make me an alien. Roughly translated my species is called Travelers because we have perfected interstellar travel."
"Why is it so dark?"
"Currently no wavelengths of light that your visual system can process are being broadcast into the chamber you are in. The drug that blocks your fear is not without flaws. The instinct for self-preservation in the human is very strong. Too much of the unfamiliar at once could potentially damage you."
"Okay. You guys are lucky that I am not afraid of the dark."
"Guys? Revekah, you and I are the only sentient beings on this starship. We will be the only ones on this ship for a very, very long time."
Again she giggled the drunken giggle, "Xeno, you don't have all that much time. Like I said I am almost dead. I don't have all that much longer to live."
"Revekah, you will find you going to live much longer than you ever anticipated."
For the first time a strangely muted wave of dread shook through her. "What have you done to me?"
"I have made adjustments in your endocrine system to stop your aging. I introduced a variety of microscopic molecular repair bots into your body. They are currently repairing your degraded cells and systems. They are also implementing some necessary changes to your respiratory system so that you may tolerate my atmosphere requirements more easily."
A wave of anger, mild but there, shook through her, "You mean I am not going to die?"
"Revekah, you will still be mortal. Your body can be killed. But you will not die of your body systems decaying due to the human aging process."
"I could live forever?"
"Forever is a very long time, Revekah."
"And I had just gotten used to the idea. I was kind of looking forward to it."
"I am sorry, Revekah, I do not understand that last statement. What were you looking forward to?"
"Death, I was looking forward to dying. I was all excited to see if there was anything after I died."
"What did you think was going to happen?"
"I didn't know. That was the adventure. Was there life after death? Was there a going to be a heaven or a hell? All those questions were finally going to be answered. And if there was nothing, if it was true that there is only a loss of consciousness, then I wouldn't be there to notice and be disappointed. I was ready to be done, ready to leave this old body behind."
"Revekah, you are in the process of leaving that old body behind. And if it was adventure you were hoping for, then perhaps I have what you seek. Together we will see much of the universe."
"That sounds like a marriage proposal."
"In many ways, it is much, much more than a marriage proposal. I seek a partner. My species communicates telepathically. Your species has many unique qualities that make our partnership very beneficial to me. You experience things very intensely. And, Revekah, your mind and senses are especially suited to communicate those experiences with me. Your memory is exceedingly sensory, you remember how things taste, sound, and feel much better than the average human."
"Are you communicating telepathically with me now?"
"Revekah, it is the only way I can communicate. I do not have the physical anatomy to be able to make sounds."
"Can you read my mind?"
"It is very complicated. I can hear your thoughts, but I cannot delve into your memories. I can feel the patterns and tones of how your mind functions, much like you experience music, but there is a visual element as well. Revekah, humans have a very strong connection to their physical being. It enhances how they think and how they feel. When I link with you I sense this. I wish to share this with you."
"Will I always be like this, bonded to a table in the dark?"
"No, Revekah, you will find that you will be free to move around the starship. I have every intention of making you as comfortable and as happy as possible. If you are not happy, it would make me unhappy."
"What do you look like?"
"I am a bipedal, bilaterally symmetrical, terrestrial species. I have two legs and four limbs that you would call arms. One pair of arms is evolved for heavy lifting and gross motor tasks. The other pair is more suited for finer motor tasks. I am sure your species' accepted standards of beauty would classify me as quite ugly and most likely frightening."
"Are you a male?"
"By your specie's definitions of male and female, I would qualify as both. But I am not capable of reproduction. That portion of my biology has been deactivated."
"What if I say no? What if I don't want to do this?"
"Revekah, you have very little choice in this matter. I had hoped to have a willing partner, but if you are unwilling, it would only mean you will be spending a great deal of your time bonded to the horizontal surface. I cannot have you attempting to harm me, the ship, or yourself. I have gone to a great deal of expense and time to collect you."
"And if I am a willing partner?"
"You will have all the same freedoms as I do. Most of our time is spent on board this ship. Interstellar flight is very time consuming. It takes decades to travel from one star system to the next. Our mission is exploration and acquiring alien technologies and other trade goods. Beyond leaving this ship or halting our mission, you will have equal say in every other activity we engage in. I will not force you to do anything, but I hope that you will be interested in joining me in this adventure. That is one of the many things I found beautiful about your mind, your love of novelty and adventure.
"It just feels wrong to have this forced on me."
"Revekah, think of it like you think of death. You were willing to face that unknown. You were willing to accept it as an inevitable fact and had come to welcome it. How much different is this? I came silently in the night and took you away from the life you knew. I carried you away into the heavens above."
"Okay, so you are like an angel now?"
"Did you believe in angels?"
"No, not so much. Toward the end, I did not believe in much." She paused and thought about that sentence. It sounded like she was already thinking like she had died.
"When will you turn on the lights?"
"First I want to speak to you about what you will see."
"Will you be there?"
"No, not yet."
"Okay, what is it that I will see?"
"This will not look like anything you have seen before. Our technology is more organic and fluid. You see colors on very different wavelengths than I do, so the colors will not be any you have seen before."
"Now you have me curious."
"Your curiosity is very sweet."
"You are doing that thing you were talking about, linking with me to feel my feelings."
"Very perceptive of you, Revekah; I am impatient to share with you. I have been alone for a very long time. I will gradually introduce light in the wavelengths appropriate for your vision. Do not fear the unfamiliar. It is an adventure."
Slowly the place she was in began to glow. It was like being in a fog of glittering, glowing, translucent particles. At first it felt like they were close enough to touch her. She found herself blinking reflexively as her eyes told her over and over again that something was too close. Xeno was right. It was a color, but she had no words to describe it.
"Okay, this is weird. It's like being in a snowstorm that doesn't touch you. Will I be able to see anything other than these sparkles?"
"Soon your brain will be able to sort out the stimuli it needs to process information. It will begin to disregard the extraneous. You are completely unaware of how much your brain was able to disregard on your own home world. Your own air is not as clear as you would like to think."
"I am hungry."
"Oh good, I have wanted to experience your eating."
"Will there be food and cooking?"
"Food, yes, cooking will not be like you expect. You will need to imagine, as carefully as you can, what it is you wish to eat. Remember exactly the appearance, flavors, temperatures, and textures and share these memories or imaginings with me. I will interface with the ship to have this food synthesized. In many ways, you will be able to be more creative than you ever could be before."
Revekah thought for a while about this. All her life she had been creative; painting, sculpture, music, food, and other endless little things. She would visualize this thing she wished to make and then work to try and make reality of it. Rarely could she exactly replicate the thing in her mind, but the new thing created had a unique and unexpected beauty all its own. She wondered how this would feel, to visualize it and somehow just get it made, exactly. Was just the imagining enough of the process?
"Okay, will you let me become unbonded from this table enough to feed myself?"
"It is not just a table."
Revekah began to feel the thing she was laying on moving and changing shape around her. Soon she was sitting up in a semi reclined position. "Oh, this is better."
"Before we do this eating thing, I will need to bring the food to you. You will need to imagine it and then I will synthesize it and bring it to you. Revekah, that will mean you will see me. At first it will be somewhat indistinct, blurred by your adjusting vision and only a portion of my anatomy, but you will see enough to possibly be alarmed."
"Even with the drug?"
"Revekah, the drug has worn off. I do not wish to use it often. It creates a barrier to my being able to link with you. The process of talking to you while it wore off and suggesting to you that you could not become afraid was enough to insulate you from panic. Your mind is not prone to fear. You are too curious to be frightened of novelty for long."
"If you say so."
"I wish that it was possible to laugh telepathically. I appreciate your humor, but your act of laughing is not easily communicated through a link."
"So you get my jokes?"
"Not all of them, I am sure. But as we become more familiar with each other and more deeply bonded, I will begin to understand some of your more subtle ironies and jokes."
"So humor is part of your world?"
"I have not been back to my world in a long time. But yes, my species uses a form of humor."
"Xeno, I am still hungry."
"What would you like to eat, Revekah? All you have to do is imagine it. At first you will find it hard to communicate exactly what it is you want and you may find the item served you may not be to your exact expectation. Close your eyes and think about a time you ate something. Lose yourself in that memory. Imagine it before you, look at it, smell it. Take a bite and think about how it feels in your mouth as you chew and swallow."
She thought about the homemade ice cream her Mom used to make when she was a little girl. She could see the bowl and how it mounded rich and creamy white in the spoon as she scooped up an icy bite. The cold, rich, vanilla custard melted away in her mouth and made her head ache.
Xeno's thoughts in her mind were rich and encouraging. "Yes, Revekah, I knew you would be excellent at this."
The scintillating motes that filled the air around her swirled and eddied and Revekah blinked and peered, straining to see. Something was there moving, and to her surprise she realized it was something bigger than she expected. It loomed over her. "Revekah, you can move your arms and hands now. Something is going to touch your hand. It is the container of ice cream."
She was distracted by the sensation of cold touching her hand and looked down, instinctively reaching for the exact same bowl with a spoon in it that she had seen in her mind. The ice cream looked just like she had imagined. Then she saw the damp gray surface of the thing holding the bowl. It looked slimy and had too many fingers, or maybe tentacles would be the more accurate description. She instinctively jerked her hand back.
The bowl stayed still. Revekah looked at the arm that disappeared into the sparkling fog. It was about the size of a normal human sized arm, but again it looked moist and had a disturbing gray color. "This is one of my fine motor arms. It is what I use to pick up and manipulate smaller items and touch things to sense their texture and chemical makeup. I promise you, Revekah, that never, in all the time we are together, will I cause you pain or injury."
Revekah reached out a trembling hand to take the bowl and as soon as she had grasped it, the 'hand' disappeared back into the fog. For the briefest of instants she felt a touch and shuddered in fear. Then she noticed the hand holding the bowl, her own hand. At first she did not recognize it. The fingers were not bent with arthritis, there were no age spots, but most amazing of all was the roundness, the smoothness of youth. "Oh my god, oh my god, my hands, they are..." She dropped the bowl of ice cream and it fell and slid off into the fog. She brought her hands up to her face and felt. The soft crepe skin seemed to cling closer to the bones of her face. She ran her hands down her body, feeling the firmer, smoother body of a younger woman. "Xeno, I am not old anymore."
"It is part of the nano repair bots function. Like I communicated to you before, you are leaving your old body behind."
"I dropped the ice cream. I am sorry."
"Do not be distressed. What you dropped will be absorbed and recycled by the ship. I will get you another. Unless there is something else you would like to have? I rather enjoyed sharing with you your memory of ice cream."
"Do I need to imagine it again?"
"For this ice cream, no. Once I communicate it to the ship, it will remember."
This time when Xeno handed her the ice cream, Revekah asked, "Could you keep your hand close enough to see? I want to look at it."
After she took the second bowl, careful this time to avoid any accidental contact, she sat and stared closely at the strange, six digit hand that moved up to be held in front of her face. There were four central boneless 'fingers' with a slightly larger 'thumb' on either side. The palm and inside of the 'fingers' looked textured, like terry cloth. Revekah had an odd thought, 'really opposable thumbs'.
"It looks like it is slimy."
"My species does exude a fluid from our skins. It is how we breathe. We exchange gasses through these fluids on our skin. It is moist, but not sticky or slippery. Would you like to touch?"
A shiver of fear shook through her, "You mean like shake hands?"
"If you want."
"I don't think so. Not right now. I am sorry. I just can't, not right now."
"There is no hurry. We have nothing but time on our hands."
When she laughed, Xeno commented, "You got my joke."
"Yes, I did."
Revekah took a bite of the ice cream and paused in shock. "It tastes just like I remember."
She took another bite and closed her eyes, letting the ice cream melt in her mouth. It tasted wonderful. She could almost feel the summer heat on the back porch and hear the creak of the old porch swing.
Somehow she knew Xeno there, sharing the moment with her. She wondered how this would feel, endlessly on display, never a moment of privacy, physical or mental.
When the bowl was empty she sat holding it awkwardly, "What should I do with this?"
"Just let it drop to the floor. The ship will recycle it."
"Does your species eat?"
"Yes. But most of the chemical compounds that make up my diet would not be digestible to you, and some could be unhealthy for you to ingest. I could attempt to share with you what eating for me is like, but at this time your brain has had enough novel things to learn how to process."
"What if I have to go to bathroom?"
"Just excrete where you are. The ship will..."
"I know. I know ... the ship will recycle it. You know that the whole idea that I am living inside a big sewage recycling plant is kind of gross? I hate the idea of pissing or shitting where I am sitting. It kind of freaks me out. I mean, I will feel it on me. You talk about your species. Well my species has some very strong opinions about not shitting where we sit, damn it!" Her voice was getting loud and she could feel just the edges of hysteria beginning to leak in. She got a grip on herself. "Please, don't make me shit here in this chair." There was the tiniest tremble in her voice.
"Do you feel the need to excrete at this time?"
A wild hysterical giggle rose up, "Um ... no, but it is just a matter of time. Could you make me this?" She focused hard and imagined an antique china chamber pot that she had once owned.
"Yes, Revekah, I could make you that."
"When I need to, um, excrete, could you make me one of those? I could use it and then you could take it away to some other place for the ship to recycle. It would help me a lot if you did that."
"Yes, Revekah, thank you for your willingness to tell me what you need. I did study your culture, but there is a large amount that I did not completely understand. It will help immeasurably if you assist me in understanding what you need to feel comfortable."
Again she ran her hands down the length of her body. "Could I have some clothes?"
"I could make you clothing, but they would not last very long. The ship would start to recycle them in only a short while. Are you cold? I could adjust the temperature."
"No, I am not cold. I am just feeling naked. In my culture naked means vulnerable. It is easier to feel safe and confident if I could have something to wear."
"That would be difficult. My culture does not use inanimate objects. The ship regards any inanimate object as something to be recycled."
"So the ship is alive?"
"Very much alive."
"And you communicate with it, like you communicate with me."
"I use the same portions of my nervous system to do it. But the ship is not sentient. It is not the same experience."
Revekah felt a wave of exhaustion. "I feel so tired all of a sudden."
"The adjustment takes a great deal of your energy. It is normal to feel fatigued. You are experiencing extreme amounts of stress; mental, emotional, and physical. Would you like to have your support surface horizontal or continue in a reclined position?"
Flat, but please don't bond my arms down." As the surface became horizontal, she asked, "Could you make it a little softer please?" And as the surface became more yielding she laughed, "It's an adjustable mattress." Her voice was foggy and fading into sleep when she asked one last question.
"Do you sleep?"
"No, Revekah, my species does not sleep."
A random thought drifted through her exhausted mind, 'then you don't dream'. But she was too far gone to speak out loud.
His answer was prompt, "Dreams seem to be a human characteristic."
Sleepily she thought, 'get out of my head'.