Aliena too, p.1
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       Aliena Too, p.1

           Piers Anthony
 
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Aliena Too


  ALIENA TOO

  Piers Anthony

  Contents

  Prologue

  Part 1. Alien Lover

  Part 2. Alien Host

  Part 3. Alien Threat

  Epilogue

  Author’s Note

  Prologue

  I am Aliena, a sapient starfish from a distant planet. I came to Planet Earth on a spaceship—a hundred year voyage that seemed like an instant because I was in stasis with my companions while the ship was piloted by machines. My revived brain was implanted in the skull of an Earth woman who had lost her mind, literally, to her body’s freak immune response. It was too late to save her brain, but her body was otherwise in good health. It had been donated to science by her family.

  There was a storm that separated me from my handlers. I encountered a neighbor man, Brom, who enabled me to survive, and taught me love. We married and I bore a baby, but I was not satisfied. I insisted on going to my host body’s parents, who were not at all receptive to the contact, but I managed to persuade them. They named my baby, their granddaughter, Maple. Then the host’s immune system rejected me also, and I had to be replaced by my sibling, Star. This was disruptive for my human husband, but he too accepted what had to be.

  Now it is time to introduce another starfish to human society, this time a male. This is the story of that introduction, and the complications following it, including contact with an alien (to us) presence. I will narrate it to the best of my ability, attempting to mirror the viewpoints of the human people who become involved. The first part will follow the human wife of the donor host; the second part will follow the husband, who becomes a human mind in a starfish host; and the third part will be mine as I wrestle with relationships both stellar and personal. Bear with me while I try to emulate the feelings of others, hoping I am reasonably accurate.

  Part 1

  Alien Lover

  Lida jumped nervously when the doorbell rang. That would be the committee who claimed to be searching out an answer to her husband Quincy’s terrible dilemma. Would they really have anything, or was this to be a statement of failure?

  She opened the door, and was surprised. There stood a grandfatherly man, a grandmotherly woman wearing old-fashioned spectacles, and a pretty three-year-old child. Not the committee.

  “Can I help you?” Lida asked, trying to mask her relieved disappointment.

  “There is a way,” the man said.

  “But you may not like it,” the woman said.

  “It’s awful,” the child said. “But neat.”

  Lida, at a loss, fumbled for words. “You—you’re the—the committee?”

  “We are,” the man said. “I am Johnson Smythe, and this is my wife of twenty-seven years, Rebecca. And our granddaughter, Maple. May we come in? We have serious business to broach.”

  “Yes, yes, of course, do come in,” Lida said. “We’ve been expecting you. I’m Lida Fisher.” She ushered them in. “And this is my husband, Quincy.”

  “I am currently zonked out on stabilizing drugs,” Quincy said. “I can make sense only part of the time. So Lida will do the talking.” He retreated.

  “Of course,” Johnson said.

  They settled into chairs in the living room. “Quincy is losing his mind,” Lida said. “We are told that he is too far gone to save, but the doctors at the hospital promised to look into it. They said there was a committee that would come to us with the verdict. But we didn’t expect civilians and a child.”

  That child plumped down on the floor. But she was paying full and serious attention, which was a bit eerie for one her age.

  “I think the best way to clarify this is to rehearse our own experience,” Johnson said. “Then you will appreciate that we do understand your situation. But this will be difficult.”

  Lida wasn’t in much of a mood for other folks’ stories. “If—if the verdict is negative, please just tell us outright.”

  “No, it’s positive,” Rebecca said. “But maybe not in a way you will like.”

  This was hard to assimilate, so Lida didn’t try. “Then just tell us.”

  “Our daughter was about your age, Lida,” Johnson said. “She was a pretty girl with a fine voice and an aspiration to become a professional singer. We think she could have made it. But then she came down with the brain rejection syndrome—let’s stay clear of the technical terms—the same one Quincy has. By the time we understood its nature, it was too late. Her brain was essentially dead, and her body would soon follow if not supported by heroic measures. So—so we donated it to science, and turned our backs on the matter.”

  “Turned your backs?”

  “It was too painful,” Rebecca said. “To know that our daughter’s body lived, but not her brain. That she was, in effect, a zombie. We simply had to tune the whole thing out. It may not have been the best course, but it was all we could manage.”

  Lida had a notion how that could be. Was her talented and creative husband to become a zombie too? She hated the very thought. If they were going to suggest that he donate his body for science, what could she do but agree, and turn her back on the whole awful business? “I understand.”

  “Then she returned,” Johnson said. “Only she wasn’t a zombie. Her body had been given to an alien, an intelligent starfish from another planet. That creature’s brain was using her body. She—I mean, the alien thing—contacted us, wanting to meet us. Naturally we refused.”

  Lida tried to picture it, and shuddered. “Naturally,” she agreed.

  “But she came anyway, like a zombie roused from the dead. With her—her husband. The thing in her head had married a normal man, and, and—”

  “She was pregnant,” Rebecca said. “We were appalled.”

  Lida nodded appreciatively. They did have a notion of the appalling prospects.

  “She, I mean the alien, wanted to associate with us,” Johnson continued. “Of course we tried to turn it down. This whole business was off the wall. But then she said something that demolished us. It went something like this: she was an alien creature, but the child her body would bear would be our human grandchild.”

  “Who would need to be with those who would love her,” Rebecca said. “A human family, not an alien one.”

  A mental light flashed. Lida looked at the little girl.

  “Yes, that’s me,” Maple said proudly.

  Lida felt faint. “But to accept the child, you needed to accept the alien mother. Because it was legally her child.”

  “We did,” Johnson said. “And you know, we never regretted it. Aliena was a fine person, and we came, in time, to love her as we had our daughter. She’s a starfish, yes, but she’s a person—a good one. And of course we love Maple.” The child smiled.

  “But it wasn’t over,” Rebecca said. “Because then the rejection got Aliena too, and she had to be replaced with another alien brain.”

  “Star,” Maple said. “Now we love her too.”

  “Star!” Lida said. “Isn’t that the glamorous alien envoy? The one who sings?”

  “That’s her,” Maple said. “Now I call her Mom.”

  “It wasn’t easy,” Johnson said. “Not because she was alien, but because she wasn’t Aliena. She was a stranger. It was especially hard on Aliena’s husband, Brom Hudson. He truly loved Aliena, having never known our daughter in that body. But finally he too accepted Star.”

  “As did Maple,” Rebecca said, glancing fondly at the child. “She had seen her mother replaced by a stranger in the same body. But she understood, perhaps before the rest of us did, that Star was blameless and that she needed our support as much as Aliena had. It wasn’t just because the interaction of two sapient worlds was at stake; it was that she was alone in an alien host on an alien world. She was smart, a genius, but emotion
ally she was weak, and we all had to pitch in and help her make the grade. Otherwise she would have foundered before she ever got famous.”

  Lida nodded. “This is amazing. I see that you do understand about strangers in a familiar body. But that has been accomplished. What has it to do with us?”

  “We want to use Quincy’s body as the host for the brain of a male starfish,” Johnson said.

  Lida felt as if she had been struck by a comet. “Oh, god, I should have seen that coming! A female needs a male. But—but Star already has a husband.”

  “It gets worse,” Maple said confidently.

  “Star is married to a human man, true,” Johnson said. “That will not change. The starfish male must be married to a human woman.”

  This was dreadful. “Not only must I lose my husband, I must see him married to another woman?”

  “No, dear,” Rebecca said. “He must be married to you.”

  Lida was blank. “I—I don’t understand.”

  “Bluntly,” Johnson said, “you must maintain your marriage to Quincy. But his brain will change to that of the starfish.”

  “But Quincy will be dead!”

  “That is the other part of the offer. Quincy can live—in the body of a starfish. The two will simply switch brains. The immune rejection will not affect them then. All expenses will be more than covered. You will be able to visit Quincy at the starfish station in orbit about the moon. He will remember you and know you. But he won’t be human anymore, at least not in body.”

  “Quincy can live,” Lida breathed. “I’d do anything to make that possible.”

  “It is possible,” Rebecca said. “But the hard part will be yours.”

  “Mine?” She was trying to fight off burgeoning horror.

  “Just as we had to accept Aliena, and then Star,” Rebecca said, “you will have to accept the alien male. To maintain your marriage to him, with all that implies.”

  “But marriage—”

  “By day and night,” Rebecca said inexorably. “There are significant aspects he won’t understand emotionally. Intellectually yes, but you will have to teach him how to love you. You will have to learn to love him yourself, if you can. And bear his child.”

  Lida’s head was spinning with the sheer awfulness of it. Was she going to faint? The implications—

  Maple got up and came to her. “When I lost my mother, Aliena, I cried,” she said. “It helped.”

  Given this leave, Lida dissolved. She wept. And the child put her little arms around her where she sat, comforting her. And, weirdly, it did help.

  “But Star’s okay,” Maple said. “And the male starfish will be too. You’ll see.”

  And Lida realized that she had somehow become committed. She would let herself be married to the alien male in her husband’s body. To save the man she loved. “We’ll do it,” she said, knowing that Quincy would not question her decision. He trusted her to decide what was best, and this, outrageous as it was, was the best of painful alternatives.

  “We will let you consider it for a few days,” Johnson said. “Because you have to be sure. A portion of the fate of inter-world relations will be in your hands.”

  My hands? she thought bitterly. What about my vagina? But she had the sense to keep that to herself. “No, this is what is feasible. Every day that passes Quincy suffers worse. We have to act immediately.”

  Johnson faced Quincy. “Mister Fisher, you have heard the discussion. Are you willing to exchange bodies with a starfish, so that you will live?”

  “Yes,” Quincy said.

  Johnson seemed taken aback. “This is not a simple decision. We need to be sure that you fully understand. It will change your life forever.”

  “I do understand,” Quincy said. “I understand that I will soon die if I don’t do this promptly. If Lida can handle it, so can I.”

  “You will live, but in the body of a starfish,” Johnson said. “Lida can visit you at the space station as often as she wants. Your love can continue. But your physical marriage to her will be over, in fact if not in name. It will be like a private divorce. Another male will possess her. That is part of the difficult part. You accept that?”

  Quincy winced but stood firm. “I accept it. This will hurt her less than my death would.”

  And that was it. The die was cast.

  “There is an ambulance waiting outside,” Johnson said. “You make take it now.”

  Quincy stood. Lida stepped into his embrace, kissing him avidly. Thus swiftly was their marriage ending, in reality if not semblance. “I love you!” she whispered. “This is why I’m doing this.”

  He smiled briefly. “Ditto, dear.”

  They separated. Lida’s vision was blurred with her tears, and she knew the same was true for Quincy.

  Then Johnson escorted him out the door.

  But Rebecca and Maple stayed. “There is more, now that you have decided,” Rebecca said.

  Lida still would have preferred to faint. But she had to play this through. “More?”

  “It is time to meet Aliena.”

  “The original starfish? But she’s gone.”

  “Not exactly. She is with us now, just not in body.”

  “I don’t understand.”

  “She’s in the glasses,” Maple explained.

  “The glasses?”

  Rebecca touched her glasses. “These have been enhanced. They transmit what I see and hear to Aliena, and she communicates with me via the earpieces. We brought a similar pair for you, made to your prescription.” She brought out a pair of glasses that looked much like the ones Lida wore. “Try them.”

  Lida took off her glasses and put on the other pair. They worked well; they were indeed made to her prescription and adjusted to her face.

  “Hello, Lida.” It was a soft woman’s voice.

  Startled, she looked around, but there was no one.

  “The earpieces,” Rebecca reminded her. “They conduct the sound to the bone around your ear, in the manner of a hearing aid. It sounds real.”

  Oh. “Hello, Aliena,” Lida said, bemused.

  “I will be with you from here on, if you are amenable,” Aliena said. “I am in my own host body, a starfish in the station, and my words are translated, as are yours for me. I will be your contact for the starfish, so that you will never be in doubt. I will guide you when you visit the station, and make sure the way is clear. I can assure you already that your husband will be well cared for; I will see to it myself.”

  “Oh. Thank you.” What else could she say?

  “There will, of course, be no monetary expense for you or your family, as Johnson told you; in fact, you will be well-off financially.”

  “I’m not doing this for money!” Lida exclaimed, pained. “I never even thought of money.”

  “You did it for love,” Aliena said. “I understand. I gave away my own husband for love.”

  “Yes you did,” Lida agreed, appreciating the similarity of their circumstances, though Aliena was an alien creature in the body of a starfish.

  “Johnson and Rebecca will have more for you, and of course so will my child, Maple.”

  “You gave up your child too,” Lida said, feeling the additional pain of that.

  “She visits me. Star takes good care of her. And so do her grandparents. This life, different as it would be for you, is ultimately good. But if you have any question, ask me and I will help as I can.”

  “How can you help?”

  “I run the starship. Anything we can do for you technologically, we will.”

  “You run the starship? That must be complicated! How can you have time for me?”

  “It’s not complicated. Machines do the work. I merely give the orders, and not many of them. This exchange of hosts is vital to the starship’s mission. It is very much my business. But that is practical; I also care personally. I know what you are going through, losing your beloved, and how hard it is.”

  And surely she did. “Thank you.”

/>   “Now I will leave you to Rebecca and Maple. I will stay out of your life except when you wish my participation. But you need to understand that as long as you wear the glasses, I can see and hear everything that you do. You are not alone.”

  That knowledge helped. “Can we be friends?”

  “If you wish, knowing my alien nature.”

  “You loved and lost a human man. What else counts?”

  Aliena sighed. “Emotionally, very little. Now I will go silent.”

  Lida looked at Rebecca. “I like Aliena.” She was half surprised to hear herself say it, but it was true.

  “So do I,” Rebecca said.

  “She’s my mother,” Maple said. “Star is all right, and I like her, but I am Aliena’s child.”

  “There will be formidable changes in your life,” Rebecca said. “You won’t be able to live here any more.”

  “Why not?”

  “Security. The starfish are here to help us, and to be our stellar companions, but there are those who fear and hate aliens of any nature. They are paranoid about starfish intentions, thinking that they want to take over the world and extirpate all humans, or make them into meat animals. That’s absolutely not true; all the starfish really want is sapient companionship, so they are not alone in the universe.”

  “You’re sure of that?”

  “Yes. You will be too, as you come to know them better.”

  “I certainly hope so.”

  “The identity of the star man will have to be concealed, just as Aliena’s identity was at first. That is why you must treat him as your husband in every detail, so that no one knows about the change. But there will inevitably be hints, and some will catch on, so he must be guarded. We will move you into the bunker Aliena used, and assign the same guards.”

  “Bunker! Guards! What is this, a prison?”

  “Oh, no, it looks and functions just like a house. But it is bomb proof and gas proof, and impermeable to invasion. And the guards are nice people; you’ll like them.”

  “But how can we live any normal existence, if we have to be constantly guarded?”

  “It can be tricky.”

  “What of neighbors? Won’t they notice?”

 
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