They didn't want to go to the party. He had been out of the hospital for just two days, and really didn't feel like partying. His release coincided with the annual Halloween party his family threw every year, and as the whole family was going to be there anyway, they turned it into a welcome home celebration. So costumes were improvised, and Jaime, with Beth beside him, became the center of attention.
There were hugs, tears, and back slaps galore, But Jaime especially appreciated the handshakes and quiet words from men who had 'been there, done that' also. He was moved beyond words when they were presented with a two day getaway to Vegas,
a trip meant to be the honeymoon they couldn't afford when they married. He was also stunned when people pressed cards into Beths' hands, a
"little something for the trip" they said. He knew they contained money. His people were all working class, and in a bad economy they were all struggling, which gave it all a deeper meaning.
Beth stood clutching the cards with tears streaming down her cheeks while Jaime idly wondered if there was a bus leaving for Vegas soon.
The surprises weren't over yet. The family literally dragged them outside. In front of the parking lot was a yellow 2006 Mustang convertible, with a banner draped across the bumper saying "Jaime and Beth, Vegas or Bust!"
Jaime was speechless. Beth was sputtering "How? What, who..."
His grandfather pointed to a man.
A small man in his sixties stepped forward, using a cane, smiling.
"My brother owns a used car lot. I got him to loan you this for a week. It's got independent dealer tags, and a letter in the dash stating It's covered with insurance for a week long test drive. Have it back by next Friday. It's got a full tank of gas, and a dealer gas card in the console good for three fill ups. That should get you there and back."
He was the owner of the vineyards most of the family worked for, a well respected man. He pulled Jaime in just a bit closer, showing him is drivers license embossed with a purple heart and a silver star.
"Son, a private word. Don't ever be embarrassed what these things bring you. You deserve them. And you earned them, with pain and sacrifice. Your country owes you, we all owe you. Good luck in life. Love your woman well, she shared your suffering too. She's stood by you, not many do this day and age."
Leaning back, he hands Beth an envelope with instructions not to be opened until they reach the Nevada border, and whispers to her he put six bottles of his finest wines in the trunk. They watch as he hobbles back to his Cadillac STS. Jaime recognizes the Vietnam ribbon on the tag, as well as lt. colonel insignia.
Two hours later they've left the smog laden valleys of California for the high deserts of Nevada. Even though Beth wanted to open the envelope right away, out of respect they waited.
The moment they passed the "Welcome to Nevada"
sign he had to pull over. Her scream echoed across the desert.
It was reservations for a full week in the honeymoon suite at a major hotel, all inclusive and paid for. There were also ten one hundred dollar bills, and a note.
"Kids, one of my distributors has this hotel as a client. I told him about you, he made some calls, and this is the result. Everything short of gambling money has been taken care of, even the gratuities. Use the spa, enjoy the shows. And Beth, when you get there ask for Grace. She's been instructed to take you shopping for a wardrobe befitting a beautiful bride, and it is included in the package. Jaime, you'll need a suit or two, it's taken care of."
"The money came from my old outfit. When I told them about you they wanted to do this. And Jaime, when you muster out, call the men on these business cards I've included. Some of us have been pretty successful, and even in this economy we're always looking for a good man. Call me first. Now, enjoy your lives."
It was signed "Lt. Colonel James Marsden, ret., and the men of C Company, 82nd Airborne, 1967.
After recovering they continued their journey. Even though it was cold, she had the top down. With the windows rolled up and the heater going full blast it wasn't warm. but bearable. She had the seat reclined and was looking up at the full moon and the bright stars.
"I feel like I can almost touch them."
Jaime smiled. "They're not quite that close, honey."
She giggled. "I know, silly. But honey, can we stop and do a little stargazing?"
Jaime, who had slept under enough desert stars to last a lifetime, grinned. When they were first getting together, and completely broke, they would scrap up bus fare to as far into the hills as they could get. They each had a backpack and he carried a sleeping bag. The packs would be filled with bottled water, some cheap wine if they could afford it, a few cans of soup, pork and beans, maybe some potted meat and crackers and chips. They would walk to the highest point accessible, find a suitable spot, and set up their meager camp. If it wasn't too dry or too wet they would have a small fire. And if it had rained recently, and if the wind was blowing in the right direction, they could actually see some stars, if they bothered to look up.
This didn't happen too often, as they were busy making each other see stars.
Ten miles down the road they found a pull off and a parking lot designed for people unloading four wheelers for desert riding. There was a small knoll rising about a hundred feet at the edge of the lot. A clearly marked trail started at the edge of the lot leading up the hill. Jaime got out and pulled Beth after him. He got two emergency blankets, a flashlight, and two bottles of wine out of the trunk.
"Come on babe, let's walk to the top. I bet it's got a great view."
She hesitated. "Honey, are you sure? Will your leg..."
He interrupted her quickly. "My leg will be fine.
We're going to walk, not run. We'll use the flashlight and go slow. It will be all right."
Slowly they made the ascent. She tried her best not to hover but she knew he noticed. There was a flat smooth circle at the top, with a great view in all directions. He spread the blanket and said,
"See, just fine. Now let's open that wine."
They sat cross legged on the blanket, facing each other with the other blanket wrapped around them. They had to drink out of the bottle since they didn't have glasses. If he hadn't been a corkscrew on his swiss army knife, they wouldn't have been drinking at all.
It was the first time they had been alone in an intimate setting in almost eighteen months. As the wine took it's effect they touched more often, slowly and tenderly. When they finished the bottle they rolled up the coats to use as pillows and lay down, drawing the blanket over them.
She rose up over him, kissing with an indescribable passion and hunger. He returned in kind, their tongues seeming to draw the very soul out of and into each other. After about five minutes they broke apart and she snuggled into him.
Looking up at the stars again, she said "Think there's any one up there looking at us?"
"I doubt it'" he said lazily "and if there is, they're probably so far in advance of us we would look like trained monkeys in a circus."
Jaime was softly caressing her breast, gently rolling her hardening nipple. Tugging the hem of her shirt up, he lowered his mouth.
"If there is something or someone watching us, let's give them a show to remember'" he whispered just before his mouth made contact.
She lay there, waves of excitement and contentment alternating through her body as she watched the stars. As her hands captured his head and drew him more into her breast she whispered quietly.
"I bet there is someone out there. And I hope they're watching us right now, so they can see what love truly is."
At the edge of the clearing was a small bush about two feet tall. Underneath it, even though it was absolutely windless, there appeared to be a small disturbance in the dust, hanging as a haze underneath the leaves.
"She senses us." said the male.
"They all do, at some level in their brain. The females are more intuitive. It will be many thousands of their years before their thought process evolves enough to recognize us for what we are." replied the female.
They were called Particulans by other beings that were advanced enough to interact with them. Long evolved past the need for corporeal bodies, they existed as particles of pure energy.
They had no need to eat, breathe, or sleep. They could draw enough energy out of a bush leaf or a star, or anything in between, to sustain them for incredible amounts of time. They seemed almost immortal. They weren't, though, and they were so highly advanced each knew the exact time when they would stop being able to absorb energy, and their particles would unbind and disperse.
Despite being highly evolved and living incredible spans of time, as a race they were dying.
The High Council had noticed this and had taken steps to reverse it. Sending out scouts across multiverses, searching for something not quite definable. Soon all the race was involved, compulsively seeking knowledge without understanding why. Instead of bringing them closer it made them more solitary and less prone to interaction. They were always happy to meet and exchange information, but seemed to lack the desire for anything else. Since there were male and female entities, to reproduce they had to interact, mate as it were, to produce a next generation.
Once a couple mated it bound them together, usually for their lifespans. Occasionally they would change partners, but it was very rare. The few that mated usually produced offspring, usually only one. By the High Council's own projections, they had a 17.5% chance of continuing as a race.
The couple in the desert continued their conversation.
"By my projections, it will be 9400 of their years before contact is made, and then it won't be by us. Most likely the Similarians."
The female was the historian and researcher of
"That would be interesting. The Similarians imprint so fast it would be like talking to a mirror.
They mean well, but have lost so much of their own identities from constant imprinting it's hard to tell who they really are anymore."
The male had a little disapproval in his voice. He didn't really care for the Similarians.
"Perhaps it for the best." she mused, "They're harmless, and it would introduce this world to a bigger universe."
"Well, it all may be a moot point, given their penchant for self destructive behavior. Who knows, they may be able to invent some new and novel way to destroy the whole race long before contact is made."
The male changed the subject abruptly.
"Why are we here again? We were just here, have things changed that much?"
By just here he meant 350 years ago, the blink of an eye to their race. He wasn't impressed then and he wasn't now.
He was known as First Scout, because of his ability to find races and planets others overlooked or ignored. She was known as First Scout Mate/Collector. She would find things most overlooked about the races they encountered. They were the most successful team in the history of their race, a fact not unnoticed by the Council.
A far more significant claim to fame, as far as the Council was concerned, was the fact that they had produced 48 offspring. This was second only to the First Prime Mother of legend, who had produced 49. Although she wouldn't have recognized it as ambition, First Scout/Mate always wanted to produce 50.
She replied serenely.
"We're here at the request of the Council. And you well know..."
He helped her finish, the phrase was almost a mantra.
"The Council always has a reason!"
"And to answer your question, much has indeed changed. Amazing really, considering their pitiful lifespans."
"Still, are you sure we have the right time frame?
According to your research their dress is at least two generations off."
She gave the mental image of a smile, happy to share her knowledge.
"We're in the right time frame. We have arrived during one of their seasonal celebrations. It's called Halloween, a ritual steeped in ancient paganism and modern commercialism. One of the offshoots of this tradition is to dress as anything or anyone the imagination can perceive.
These two are dressed as was once called 'hippies'
by their peers."
She was as usual correct. Jaime had on boots, jeans, a tie dyed T-shirt, a fringed leather vest with buttons, and a jean jacket. He had a leather band tied around his head. Beth had on sandals, a peasant skirt and blouse, a matching vest and jacket, and a garland of plastic flowers.
"But why here, with this particular pair? What's so special about them?"
"I don't know, honey. Let's join them in their celebration and see."
As was her practice, she had adapted the subject
race speech patterns. At first it bothered him, but now he was used to it. Still, he was uneasy with her suggestion. He was never comfortable with what she planned. It seemed so ... invasive, somehow. But, as usual he was too late.
Several particles detached from the haze under the bush and floated slowly over, entering Jaime's nose when he inhaled. Soon a few more particles entered Beth through the same route.
She had entered Jaime and attached to his brain, as had her mate to Beth. It revealed everything.
History, hopes, fears, joys, were all laid out for examination.
"They're only children! Barely past puberty!" she marveled. Jaime was twenty-one, Beth just nineteen.
"Yes, but they have lived much in such a short time. Poverty, abuse, prejudice, they've all been part of their daily lives, especially the female." mused the male.
He was reading from her childhood memories. One fourth black, one fourth Indian, one half white, Beth had been abandoned as a baby and raised in a series of foster homes. Some had been kind, many indifferent, the last two abusive, physically and sexually. She had run at fifteen, and lived on the streets until Jaime found her a year later.
He was her first experience with love of any kind.
"His upbringing was much better, poverty and brushes with racism to be sure, but he was surrounded by love and a stable family."
She could see his past flow by. A Mexican mother, Korean father. He was surrounded by family, growing up to speak Korean, Spanish, and English.
They were factory workers, farm laborers, some even migrants.
"What are they doing now?"
"Mating" she said, "although they would call it making love. Others call it sex."
"So then, is 'love' a requirement to mate?" He was the explorer, not the researcher.
"No, it is a physical act. It's called love when there is an emotional connection. Otherwise it's called screwing, fucking, banging, the names are almost endless. It's how they produce offspring."
"So then, the purpose is to produce offspring?"
"Yes, but they have ways of preventing that."
He was even more confused. "Then what's the point?"
"As far as I can tell, it's quite enjoyable physically. And to those who are 'in love' it
reaffirms the emotional connection."
He was still trying to grasp it.
"Every time we mated, it was for the express purpose of reproducing. Why do they avoid it?"
"Check your memory. This little rock is rapidly getting crowded. If they didn't use controls they would soon outgrow their resources. As it is, the strain is already showing. At least they're making an attempt to be responsible, well, some anyway.
"Besides, how many times have we mated without producing offspring? Do you consider those times wasted?"
Any male of any species was smart enough to not to fall into that trap.
"Now, honey, you know it was enjoyable every time.
It just disappoints me that they can reproduce so easily, while we struggle just to keep our race alive. The unfairness offends, I guess."
He hoped using the earth term 'honey' would reassure his mate.
Changing the subject, he asked, "What's he doing?
her internal temperature and blood pressure is rising rapidly."
Jaime was fondling her breasts with both tongue and hands.
"It's called foreplay. He's stimulating her mammary glands to make her more receptive to mating."
"Mammary glands? Are they important?"
"Their primary function is to provide nourishment to their young. But despite the different sizes and shapes, the males seem to appreciate them. It may be why they have so many names for them. Boobs, tits, rack, hooters, again the names are limited only by their imaginations."
He understood. Most races they've encountered use multiple names for the things they value.
The female noticed changes in Jaime. Blood was rerouting to different parts of his anatomy.
Beth had managed to get his jeans undone and was stroking him to erection, while pulling his mouth from her breast to hers, kissing deeply.
The male could feel it also.
"What are they doing now?"
"The part with their mouths is called kissing.
It is most intimate, especially with tongue play. Her hands are caressing his penis [the names dick, cock, johnson, tool, etc. flashed through his consciousness] to get it ready for intercourse. It is his primary sexual organ."
She touched his mind again, and mentally recoiled. She could see violence, death, extreme physical and emotional pain.
"Why, he is a warrior! One of the fiercest of his tribe. He has been wounded, badly, only to survive and assist his fellow warriors, saving many."
Visions appeared. Honors, presentations of gratitude from his tribe. Their supreme leader placing a blue ribbon around his neck, letters, CMH, A purple heart, no, two, pinned to his chest.
He searched her memories. Visions of fear, not for her but her mate. Alone and lost, waiting his return. Seeing her collapsed on a floor, heart wrenching wails as she clutches the notification of his wounds.
These memories were pushed into the background,
the pure need of each other holding them at bay. Slowly but steadily they were shedding clothes until they were both nude. He felt her tense, then relax.