fiction · Sci-fi

Stuck in the Middle With You

creampuff

He wasn’t supposed to be here.

The first human he met, Abigail, referred to the town he had crash-landed in as the “middle of nowhere,” not realizing just how apt a description that was. It wasn’t just that they were in a “podunk” town (her words, not his) in “backwoods”  (also her words) Tennessee; to the rest of the universe, the Milky Way was the middle of nowhere. In fact, contact of any kind with Earth was banned to civilians by Universal Law; even if he still had a communications system to use, the likelihood that anyone would pick up his signal was slim-to-none.

He’d heard stories before, of course; horrifying tales of others that had crash-landed on Earth, only to find themselves on an operating table, sliced open and gawked at by the primitive humans. No one had ever come back from Earth alive. No one he had ever heard of, anyway. Still, one had to wonder how the stories got out at all…

Abigail had found him passed out a few yards from the fiery wreckage of his ship, no longer encased in the faulty force field that should have afforded him a much safer landing. She was lucky; by dragging him away from the ship, instead of letting her curiosity get the better of her, she spared both of them from certain death as the ship self-destructed just fifteen minutes later.

When he finally came-to, he awoke not on an operating table, but a bed. Sitting across from him was Abigail, with what he would later find out was a shotgun in her hands. She was a young human woman with brown skin and deep honey-colored eyes, dressed all in black, save for the occasional silver buckle or spike. Her hair was streaked with crimson, and she sported several piercings and tattoos all over her body.

“Who and what are you?” she demanded, pumping the shotgun a single time before taking aim.

Thankfully, he could understand her; his universal translator was still working.

“My name is…ERROR.” Both he and Abigail jumped, surprised by the volume. He clasped his hand over his mouth.

“T-there must not be a translation for my name,” he mumbled, after slowly removing his hand away from his mouth. Abigail said nothing, waiting for him to continue.

“I am from…ERROR.” He took in a deep breath. “I am a…ERROR.”

He cursed under his breath, balling a hand up in a fist. When he caught her starring at his potentially-threatening movements, he unclenched immediately and raised his open hand as though to say, it’s OK.

“…it seems there’s no translation…” he explained. Abigail continued to eye him warily, even as she lowered her gun so that it rested in her lap.

“…I’m not going to lie to you. I’m not from here,” at that, she snorted with derisive laughter. He rolled his eyes and then continued, “…but my translator won’t allow me to tell you who I am or where I’m from.”

“Well, I’m Abigail,” she replied, inclining her head toward him in greeting. “Unless you want me to call you Error, we’ll have to think of a name for you.”

“Whatever you think is best,” he said, sinking back into the bed with a sigh. “Thank you for saving me.” He didn’t mean it, but it seemed appropriate to say. Honestly, he wished she had never found him; he would have preferred being left to blow up along with his ship. There was nothing for him here on Earth, and there would be no rescue.

“You’re welcome.” A smile broke across her face, and then she stood up. “…I’ll call you…John. It seems appropriately bland.”

“Sure,” he replied, and closed his eyes.

“You look…mostly human, John. Is that a disguise?” she asked. He could hear her shuffling, moving slowly closer to the bed. He opened a single, yellow eye.

“No. Actually…” He stopped himself; the politics of the universe weren’t exactly something he wanted to discuss at present. “No. It’s not a disguise. I am as you see me.”

“I tried to patch you up, but I didn’t see anything wrong. Are you injured? I could take you to a hospital, but…” she trailed off, leaving the obvious to hang in the air. She seemed to have correctly guessed that his internal organs weren’t quite what a human doctor would expect to find.

John opened both eyes. “No, I’m not injured. My force field was still functional for most of the crash.”

“Are you…hungry?”

He mostly felt overwhelmingly tired, but, after giving it a bit of thought he realized that he was hungry. Very hungry.

“Yes, actually…” he replied, and then sat up in the bed, before tossing off the blanket and getting to his feet. Immediately, he flushed a very deep red; he was completely naked!

“Where are my clothes!” he yelped, before attempting to cover himself with his hands. Unfortunately, there were too many places to cover.

“You…weren’t wearing any! You don’t have a…I didn’t think you…” she stammered, flushing and looking away out of embarrassment. “…I mean, you’re like a Ken Doll down there…I just…”

He didn’t know what a Ken Doll was, or what she meant by “down there.” All he knew was that he was completely exposed. He ripped the blanket off the bed and immediately fashioned it around himself, keeping his gaze firmly upon the ground.

“…so, uh, food?” She asked after a long pause, her voice cracking. John cleared his throat and nodded, and managed to finally tear his eyes from the carpet.

“Yes, please.”

Abigail led him into the kitchen and pointed out the various compartments that held human food. “I don’t know what you can eat,” she said, looking up at him. She must have been tall for a female of her race, but he was a full head taller, and had to duck in order to pass through the archways of her home.

He thought for a moment, and then said, “sugar.” To his relief, the translator had worked. They did have something he could eat on this planet after all.

Abigail gave him an incredulous look, and then pulled out a box of something called, “Creamy Cakes” from one of the cupboards. “…like this?” she asked, pulling out a single, bright-yellow object wrapped in clear plastic.

“I…guess?” he replied. Abigail unwrapped it for him and then placed it in his hand. She watched him with blatant fascination as he carefully smelled the “food,” took a small first bite, and then devoured the rest in the second.

“…was it good?”

“No,” he intoned with a shake of his head. “But…it was still edible.”

Abigail laughed, quietly, and then motioned for him to sit down at the kitchen table. “I’ll…grab a few other things. Are you sure you don’t want something else? Meat? Vegetables? Fruit?”

“No meat,” he replied, his nose crinkling. “Fruit is…good. Yes, I can eat fruit.”

After a few minutes, Abigail had pulled nearly every sweet thing her home had to offer, and laid them out on the table before John. They ate together, though she spent most of the time continuing to gawk at him. At first, he was so hungry that he hardly cared, but once he finally felt sated after his third bowl of ice cream, it began to make him uncomfortable. Like he was on the operating table. He opened his mouth to say something, but she spoke first.

“John, is anyone going to come for you? Should I be…worried?”

“Worried? Why would you need to be worried?” he asked, adjusting the blanket that had begun to slip down past his chest.

“I mean…you’re an alien,” she said, her tone implying that it should be rather obvious. Unfortunately, it was not. She sighed, annoyed with the blank look he gave her, and explained, “…I mean, are any of your friends and family going to show up and kill me? My town?” She narrowed her eyes, leaning in as she dropped her voice to a whisper. “…planet Earth?”

John couldn’t help it. He began laughing so hard he very nearly lost his blanket again. “Kill you? Oh my, no…”

Abigail pursed her lips. “…why, exactly, is that funny?”

John finally caught her expression and wilted, his mirth dying in his throat. “Ah…you see, Earth is what you would call a…no-go zone. It’s unlikely anyone knows I’m here at all, and even if they did, I am unlikely to be rescued.”

“Really? Why?”

Did he really want to explain to her that humans were considered one of the least-developed sentient species in the known universe? That they were deemed extremely volatile, primitive, and dangerous? It seemed unkind, and she had shown him so much hospitality.

The short answer was best.

“Until a planet has reached a certain level of development, they are not to be interfered with…under any circumstances.” That was technically true, and she nodded her head, seeming to understand.

They sat in silence for a moment, though it was obvious something was still on her mind. Finally, she asked, “so…wait. You’re stuck here? Stuck with me?” It was clear she was trying to keep her tone controlled and even, but John caught the subtle hint of concern.

John slowly shook his head, “I don’t intend to burden you…I will…figure something out.”

She sighed, though he couldn’t tell if it was out of relief or something else.

“It’s too bad you’re, you know…gray,” she said with a lazy sweep of her hand towards him. “Everything else you could hide, but that? Well…it will take a lot of makeup.”

John didn’t want to think about that. Not right now, anyway.

“I’m sorry, Abigail. I don’t want to be rude, but I’m…overwhelmed. And tired. May I go back to bed? I will think about these things when I wake up.” He inclined his head toward her, deferentially.

“Oh, yes! Yes, of course. Sorry, I wasn’t trying to bum you out…” She stood up so fast she nearly knocked her chair over. “Do you remember how to get back to the guest room?”

John stood and raised his hand, careful to hold onto the blanket with his other one, so that he didn’t expose himself a second time that night. “Don’t worry, I remember.” He then bowed, awkwardly; he was certain the last book he had read on Earth’s culture was dated, but he was also sure she would still understand his gesture. “Thank you for your kindness, Abigail.”

Abigail nodded her head, and then attempted an awkward bow of her own. Did she think he was bowing because it was something his people did? The thought was amusing, but he was too tired to laugh.

“…of course,” she replied, softly, and continued to stare as he ducked under the archway leading out of the kitchen.

Just as he was ascending the stairs, he winced as she yelled, “don’t worry! I won’t call the police! Or…Mulder and Scully!” Then, very quietly, “…shit, he probably doesn’t get that joke.”

He didn’t, but he appreciated the sentiment nonetheless.

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