FICTION: EVERYTHING WAS PERFECTLY NORMAL
As usual, he began his late evening routine by flattening his recliner. It was placed with absolute accuracy, right in the centre of his supersized veranda, three stories up on the seaward side of his home.
After his customary meditation... he lay himself down.
At this angle, his vision was 98% filled with the fast darkening vastness of space and an increasing number of stars.
Clearing his mind as best he could of other thoughts he began the ritual of sending his call sign upward into the galaxy.
The Milky Way galaxy, as those on Earth had named it, was home to 99.99% of all the distant suns and all of the few planets he could see. Yet, when he focused his mind even more intently than in the first few moments he began to visualize stars and planets far more distant than any visible to the human eye.
Within his focused mind, he sent the silent message of urgency that he had sent now for all of forty-three lonely years.
The humans had some interesting characteristics for him, however, the anthropological mission he had been sent on had long been complete. Now they only bored him with their endlessly repetitive pursuits and mannerisms. They had begun to repulse him. His desire to return home was increasingly insistent.
Walking down to ‘Ed’s Cafe’ where he spent his afternoons he felt much the same as every similar occasion in recent years. He had to make an effort not to sigh. Carefully he observed the same cracks in the sidewalk that he had become so familiar with over the last many years of making this daily journey. Everything was perfectly normal.
He wasn’t entirely sure if the Ed who stood behind the counter as usual, was truly named Ed. It seemed to him that he could recall a different middle-aged man there with that name forty years before. However, this was hardly an issue for him. The important thing was that he was known as a regular and was given total privacy.
On taking his first cappuccino of the day to his booth there was very little running through his mind. The familiarity of the music drifting quietly through the air was reassuring. It was the same selection of easy-listening jazz that had played without change ever since he had been coming here. He felt calm. He would not be disturbed, long experience told him so. Why should today be any different?
“Hi! I’m Edwina!”
Suddenly his entire expectation of normality was uprooted from its cradle of comfort.
Her face seemed ultra-close to his yet this must surely be an optical illusion caused by the completely unexpected interruption he had just suffered. Her lips were crimson red and shiny. Her eyes gleamed out at him from their nests of black mascara and vibrant eyeshadow.
He stared in disbelief for a moment before stuttering…
A few pregnant seconds passed…
“I’ve been observing you.”
His startled mind began to move a notch or two toward semi-panic mode but remained under good control helped by the training that still stood him in good stead even after the passage of so much time.
She smiled and two rows of perfect, gleamingly white teeth confronted him. He stared at them in an almost hypnotic trance... and especially at what he considered to be unusually sharp incisors.
“I think you are unusual… an unusual man, you know?”
He didn’t know and for the moment feared to query her statement.
As he said this he attempted to give the appropriate facial gesture of a confused state of mind where some trivial but humorous mistake has been made.
“You are perfect for the study I’m conducting. I hope you don’t mind taking part and answering a few questions. It would really help me so much.”
His mind rapidly calculated his options. To refuse might be the simplest way to extract himself from this situation however, the consequences may or may not be trivial. She would be certain to remember the man who refused her polite request and might, at some indefinable point, mention him in this context to someone… and so on to an unpredictable chain of events. No doubt these fears were likely unwarranted. But he couldn’t be certain of that fact.
He made his decision. Only a second or two had passed since she spoke.
“Sure. Ask away. Please... take a seat.”
She sat down across from him. She was wearing what he considered a dress of a ‘Fifties’ fashion, quite bright, red in colour and of a style he described in his mind as ‘flouncy’.
After the usual formalities were over she began delivering her prepared questions from a page of A4 paper on a clipboard she took from a briefcase she had by her side.
She became more formal in her approach. It was clearly a rote procedure that he understood from the change in inflexion and one which he presumed she’d been told was the most appropriate form of address.
“Thank you very much indeed for your cooperation. I truly appreciate your assistance. Now I will ask you a series of questions.
"Here is the first. Ready?"
"Are you presently employed, unemployed or retired, or would you describe your present state of existence by an alternate term?”
He found the latter part of the question somewhat unusual. But quickly responded:
“I am retired.”
She noted this and all subsequent answers on her sheet of paper.
“Do you have a family, a wife, husband, partner or other defined relationship which might constitute a family?”
Once again the framing of her question seemed a little odd… but his answer came quickly:
“I have no family.”
“How would you define your relationship with the state? Conformist, antagonistic, obedient or rebellious? Please answer frankly in choosing one category or supply your own if you wish to do so.”
This was becoming an increasingly odd series of questions he thought to himself.
“Are there any aspects of this society you find disturbing and would seek to change if you had the power to do so?”
He gulped. Where was this going? He looked across the small table separating them into her eyes. Until this point he had been looking down at the table as if concentrating on her questions. Which he was, but for very different reasons than might be expected.
Her eyes were coolly neutral and, he couldn’t help observing, very beautiful.
“No, I wouldn’t say so. I am quite satisfied that all is as it should be.”
What do you think of our political system and the way politicians behave in respect of promises they made when they sought election or re-election?”
“I’m not really interested in politics. It seems to me they do their best and anyway I find the subject quite boring.”
He wondered then whether he was being too obvious, too neutral in his answers. Perhaps he should try to insert a little more individuality into them.
"Are you aware that you are being observed by a satellite system which monitors your every movement twenty-four hours a day, every day?”
Once more he gulped. This was a step too close to home and his brain cells devoted to suspicion activated immediately.
He couldn’t help himself:
“What?” he blurted out.
“Would you like me to re-read the question?”
“No, no… that’s okay.”
“No, I didn’t realize that.”
“Are you aware that a file is kept on you by the authorities in charge of security here and that they know your every act and change of location?”
He could feel the sweat starting to pop from his forehead as a blank look began to glaze his eyes in a rising panic.”
He couldn’t help himself.
Again he blurted out:
Followed quickly with:
“No, no… I don’t know anything about that.”
“Do you consider that you are in any danger of any kind?”
He was looking intently into her eyes now, seeking some answer to his own question that was permeating his brain... “What’s happening here?”
He tried to laugh flippantly:
“No. Not at all.”
“Don’t you feel your last answer was rather foolish considering what I told you only a few seconds ago?”
Now his hackles began to rise.
“Who are you?”
“I told you. I am Edwina.”
“Where are you from?”
“I am just a student. Do my questions bother you?”
“Very well then. Perhaps you could answer?”
“I will. Yes, it's possible my answer was indeed a little hasty.”
“Are you comfortable with your present existence in respect of what you now know of the circumstances under which you live?”
Something inside him gave in to what felt like the inevitability of his fate... whatever it might be. He answered truthfully.
“Would you be interested in a change to your present circumstances whereby you could once again feel safe?”
He felt resigned to answer each question immediately and honestly now. Something was happening here. He knew it and feared it… but felt resigned to whatever would happen next and felt forcefully compelled to continue.
“If I was in a position to effect this change would you be inclined to accept my instructions?”
It was now that she and he knew beyond words, beyond intellect, logic or any other means that something had registered at a level below all semantic or sensual appearance.
“What is your true name?”
“Thank you.” This was said with added emphasis.
“Where is your true home?
“Thank you.” Once again the acknowledgement was on a different level and held so much more than the mere words would normally suggest.
“That was the final question Xil. I will leave this place now. In several minutes you will follow me. Turn immediately left, then right at the next corner you come to. Walk until you find and enter the door marked by a single star. I will await your presence inside.”
“Welcome to your homecoming, my friend.”
“Edwina” flashed her true visage to him for just a microsecond.
In a state of ecstatic shock, he instantly replied with the same response.
He was going home. At last.
Free of this academic prison sentence. Free of this planet headed toward social imprisonment by its elites.
Free to live free.
That night his recliner lay unoccupied. Above, the blackness of space remained as ever, unmoving, eternal. The stars flickered down on all humanity as usual. No change was evident.
Everything was perfectly normal.