“Captain, exotic humanoid bogie continues to trail us at three point one four one five nine two tart, and closing. Request orders.”
“Any sign of weapons?”
“Ambiguous, Captain. Object holds over head hooded object on the end of a synthetic stick. However, it appears to be unreliable protection against precipitation, not necessarily a weapon, though potentially so at close quarters.”
“Sheesh! Alright, then. We’ll provisionally regard hooded object as non-threatening. Proceed with caution to apprehend bogie. And be especially careful. Since target is organic and not robotic, android, or cyborg, it must therefore be treated as ultra-fragile.”
“Aye-aye, Captain. All hands, stand by for TLC bogie retrieval.”
Bells rang, beepers beeped, electromagnetic fields revved, coordinates locked in, and finally buttons pressed.
Thus, breathless on that cold, wet night in June, Harriet Ballentine was captured by aliens, umbrella and all — whisked by tractor beam aboard their starship, a top-of-the-line Pangbornean Mark V Warp Drive Phrigofax Hogantwanger.
At some point it was almost inevitable. Alien abduction, that is. The moment the young woman was sighted hovering on high by astonished Pangborneans — they, who had at long last been investigating the possibility of life on Earth for a change instead of wasting time poking about for life on Mars; meanwhile she, she being Harriet Ballentine, shivering and soaked to the skin, only yards away from their virtually but not totally invisible low-flying starship; and also she, without the aid of any discernible mechanical device — they quickly contrived to collar her for further study. Who knew, they pondered with bated excitement over her ability to fly without wings or mechanical device, what possible scientific breakthroughs in planetary, interplanetary, or even perhaps interstellar space travel might be at hand far beyond such current mundane crowd-pleasers as high-flying comic-book super heroes and cgi illusions?
Harriet had been doing this for years, flying, that is…what some purists might prefer to describe as hovering or levitating, though her first flights, when she was still a child, presumably began only in dreams, the wonderful floating, effortless rising off the ground or floor, and soaring as though carried away by a soft breeze. She amused her parents at first, telling them of her escapades in the sky while she slept, but after a time they grew mildly concerned that because she was an only child she might have invented this fantasy to compensate — something like other kids with imaginary friends. A visit to a therapist, however, persuaded them to not worry so much about it, other than gently explain to the youngster that these were only dreams and that other people had them as well from time to time, and she would probably outgrow hers at some point.
Years later, as a teenager, Harriet’s floating dreams continued unabated, but she now kept these to herself, knowing that such behavior still tended to unsettle her acrophobic mother and father, an earthbound couple who preferred land-driven vehicles over airplanes for transport. She also refrained from mentioning anything to even her closest school friends. Other kinds of teenage weirdness were currently all the vogue.
But then Harriet — now a college student studying ornithology and bird migration, and living in an off-campus apartment — one morning awoke floating no more than six inches beneath her bedroom ceiling. Another dream, she thought, and rolled over, glanced down at the clock next to her bed, and saw that it read 7:36 AM. Time to wake up and get ready for school. Only she was already awake!
Egad! Forget classes! It took her the rest of the day of tentative trial take-offs and landings and finally full-blown aerial somersaults to accept the fact that it wasn’t just her imagination run amok. She really could fly!
“Holy Moly!” she cried. Well, her expressed surprise was a little more flowery.
Long story short, she wouldn’t have to take the bus to classes anymore. A pipe dream, of course, upon reflection. You simply don’t go sailing across trees, houses, streets and freeways during daylight hours and not cause a sensation and possibly a multi-vehicle pileup, or perhaps shot down by a zealous former Army sniper or a hunter mistaking you for an oversized game bird.
“Maybe if I take night classes instead,” she mused later with a chuckle.
But she more wisely scrapped the night course idea and instead devoted her evenings to flight exercises, which demanded: moonless evenings; black camouflaged dress; and riding a broom, this last one a bit of a half tongue-in-cheek, half serious salute to witchery, just in case somebody did in fact sight her sailing across their housetop and was crazy enough to report it.
Her aerial outings elated her, and once understood through trial and error her capabilities and limitations (like diving suddenly, or going too high, or heading for an unyielding wall, all of which suggested potentially disastrous implications), she flew with relative ease and safety. “Jonathan Livingston Seagull, eat my tail-feathers!” she cried. All the same, she guarded her secret better than Diana Prince did as Wonder Woman.
And then came that cold, wet June evening when the Pangborneans happened to chart a flyby through her neighborhood. That Harriet had gone out on a rainy night in the first place was a tad less from need than inclination. Her mother had phoned asking her to pick up a prescription at a local pharmacy for her dad, who was down with the flu, telling her to take the bus or call an Uber. Harriet did not yet have a car of her own, nor, if truth be known, was she inclined to own one, now blessed with the gift of flight. Of course, keen to save time and money, not to mention taste the thrill of the sky, she decided instead to fly over since it was by then dark and inclement enough where she felt reasonably safe not to be sighted. She wrapped herself against the drizzle and took along an umbrella. Once mission accomplished, medication delivered, and an hour spent in passing some quality time with her parents, she headed home the same way she came…by air. Holding aloft an umbrella à la Mary Poppins. All she lacked now was an accompanying carpet bag to complete the picture.
Halfway back to her apartment she saw the Pangbornean starship. It seemed a shadowy apparition floating but a few yards in front of her.
“What on earth…” were the only words she was able to expel before feeling an odd tingle inside her. And then, in a twinkling, she was sucked into the object and there delicately deposited, standing upon a small dais, surrounded by a reception committee, six exobiologic creatures, seemingly anxious and about to bolt, looking like and dressed in a manner akin to characters out of some Deep Space Nine Star Trek episode.
“Oh!” she cried, adding a couple of earthy ecphonesises, both meaningless to the welcoming party.
Her captors reared back, startled. One of the beings, however, quickly recovered, bowed slighty, and said, “Uliui ujuseon-e osin geos-eul hwan-yeonghabnida,”
Harriet, who just so happened to be an addict of English-subtitled Asian dramas, gawked at the speaker wide-eyed. “You speak Korean!” she cried.
The aliens widened their own eyes, then conferred quickly in a tongue she had never before heard.
The one who had first spoken turned back to Harriet, repeated the bow, then said, this time in English, with a slight Warwickshire accent, “My profound apologies for the language error. Uhm, welcome to our humble spacecraft.”
Heart pounding, Harriet breathed, “You’re aliens, aren’t you?” although she already knew what the answer would be.
In fact, she had long suspected the possibility that she herself was also an alien, her parents hiding the fact from her. After all, she was an abandoned infant whom they’d adopted. She’d also often asked herself why she’d always dreamt of flying, and then later on began to fly in truth. Still, she could not help but be taken aback by this sudden, mind-boggling encounter with extraterrestrials.
The apparent leader, evidently female by her build, assented. “Yes. I guess we are from your perspective, aren’t we? To be sure, you are the first Earthling we have had the pleasure to meet in the flesh. Please forgive us for this unexpected encounter. Our, uh, flight patterns coincided, well, quite serendipitously, it would seem. And to be frank, we were also exceedingly interested in your, uh, most peculiar mode of travel. You see, we are exploring the different planets around your star. Not as tourists, mind you. We are sentiency scouts…that is, we are seeking worlds beyond our own inhabited by sentient beings. And there are an enormous number nearly everywhere we go. In this system, however, only your planet seems to be predominant with organisms similar to our own, though we’ve observed…” Her voice trailed off, seeing Harriet’s glazed expression. “And, uh…oh, yes… Please do not be alarmed. We come in peace.”
Harriet closed her eyes, then reopened them. “I must be dreaming.”
“No-no. We are real. Truly. We come from the planet Pangbornea. It’s…” She paused, momentarily confused, pointed up, frowned, then down. “…well, that way, sort of. It’s about thirty-six light years from your world.”
“Okay, I don’t know much about astrophysics or astronomy — not sure which is which, even — but more curiously, how is it that you speak English and Korean?”
“We can speak over one hundred of your languages.”
“You can? But how?”
The alien seemed surprised. “You don’t know?”
“Not at all. How?”
Harriet, at first open-mouthed, burst out laughing, which startled her captors. “Sorry, sorry! But of course! I never thought of that. Absolutely awesome.”
Confused heads nodded. Followed by an awkward pause. Harriet waited for a response, while the Pangborneans, at a loss what to say next, held their breath. One muttered something to the captain.
Finally, Harriet said, “Seeing as how you brought me here, I, uh, I take it you wanted to see me for something?”
The captain shook her head vigorously. “Yes! Yes, indeed we do. We are most curious about something. Even perplexed. You fly in the air. And yet without the aid of wings or some other mechanical or electromagnetic device. It is we who must be dreaming. How is it possible that you can do that? Do all Earthlings fly? Though we have been here only a few days, we have never seen this occur until now, except, of course in your bird life.”
Harriet let her breath out slowly, then said, “I wish I could tell you how, but not even I know how I do it. Nobody, or at least nobody I know, flies like I do…except what you might see in movies, television, or comic books. It’s a total mystery to me. When I was very, very young, I used to often dream that I was flying, and then one day I actually was able to fly. Why or how, I have no idea. I should also mention that nobody here knows that I fly. Not my parents, not my friends. I don’t show or tell anybody that I do. It wouldn’t be a good idea at all. While I consider it a gift, it could also become a curse.”
“Yes, I can understand that.”
The Pangbornean captain stared at Harriet for a moment in thought, then turned to her crew, the members of which some were either scratching their head or shaking it or rolling their eyes. She said a few words in their own language, received some nods, several replies, then turned back to Harriet, a tentative smile on her lips.
“Please forgive my lack of manners. I haven’t introduced myself. I am Krossbowdonhue Hark’enzia, captain of this vessel, and these are officers of our crew.” She named them off, each one after another, bowing slightly.
Harriet acknowledged all in turn with a nod. “My name is Harriet Ballentine, and I live down there…somewhere,” and pointed vaguely earthward. She then looked back up at Captain Krossbodonue. “You’ve got something on your mind, haven’t you?”
She nodded. “Yes, as a matter of fact we do. How shall I put this? We, uh, we would like to pick your brain.”
Harriet’s eyes widened. “I hope you mean that figuratively.”
Captain Krossbowdonhue smiled. “Well, yes and no. First, it’s purely voluntary. We don’t intend to harm you in any way, merely do a brain and body scan that we hope might give us a clue as to your unique ability to fly. Whether you accept or reject our request, you are free to return home at your pleasure. Once we complete our investigation, we invite you to remain with us as long as you like, if you are able to do so. The decision is entirely yours.”
Harriet thought about it for all of two seconds and gestured yes. “I’d be crazy not to accept. This is a chance of a lifetime. I want to know the answer myself, that is, if there is an answer. Yes, I’ll do it.”
And so they did. But like all sweet-talking Pangbornean technofreak space pirates, they reneged on their deal once they failed to discover Harriet Ballentine’s secret of flight, high-tailed it back to their home planet together with their trophy alien and, with their instant fame, cashed in on late-night TV appearances, product promotions, and planet-wide circus tours.
Pangborneans were no different than Earthlings when it came to making an easy buck.
27 June 2018
Addendum: As for Harriet, she met and subsequently married Captain Krossbowdonhue’s charming younger brother Kreadence. After Harriet’s popularity subsided, as it will anywhere in the Galaxy given the fickleness of sentient beings, the two settled down and raised three lovely children, all who turned out to possess her gift of flying, though for the first few years until they had enough good sense of self-discipline, they had to be tethered to a tree so they wouldn’t float off and be lost.