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Alien Among Us

Alien Among Us

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Published by Kim Bellard
Chris Dixon has a problem: he's not sure he is human. He looks human. He acts human. He always thought he was human -- until one day a crazy old man tells him that he is not. Of course, at first he is naturally skeptical, but the old man keeps turning up unexpectedly, in a variety of disguises and knowing more about Chris than he has any right to. The old man, in turn, is relentlessly pursued by a group of paramilitary thugs. To complicate things further, a new love interest -- Ellen Baskin -- conveniently happens along, and Chris can't be quite sure that she won't think he is crazy…or that she might be an alien too.

Chris comes to trust the old man -- who calls himself "Pete" -- and does fall in love with Ellen. He comes to realize that future each offers him is very different, and he has to make a choice about staying true to his nature versus staying true to his heart -- a very difficult decision indeed.
Chris Dixon has a problem: he's not sure he is human. He looks human. He acts human. He always thought he was human -- until one day a crazy old man tells him that he is not. Of course, at first he is naturally skeptical, but the old man keeps turning up unexpectedly, in a variety of disguises and knowing more about Chris than he has any right to. The old man, in turn, is relentlessly pursued by a group of paramilitary thugs. To complicate things further, a new love interest -- Ellen Baskin -- conveniently happens along, and Chris can't be quite sure that she won't think he is crazy…or that she might be an alien too.

Chris comes to trust the old man -- who calls himself "Pete" -- and does fall in love with Ellen. He comes to realize that future each offers him is very different, and he has to make a choice about staying true to his nature versus staying true to his heart -- a very difficult decision indeed.

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Published by: Kim Bellard on Jan 07, 2010
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My mouth must have dropped a foot. If he had been a dentist he could have gotten in
there and done a nice bit of work before I had the presence of mind to close it, much less
to react to what he'd suggested.

"What…who…how," I stuttered eloquently. "You can't be the guy I met in the diner. He
was some old homeless nut and you're, you're…"

"Come on," he admonished me calmly. "You know it is me. Look carefully. Ignore the
superficial aspects and look at me."

He did have those eyes. That was what had seemed familiar to me, those eyes and that
calm presence. He looked completely different otherwise, but if I just focussed on those,
well, he could be the same person. Many years and much less mileage sooner, to be sure,

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Alien Among Us

but -- given that -- it could be the man I'd met. Maybe. How that could be possible, I
didn't have a clue.

I couldn't resist; my gaze dropped to his hands. His thumbs were straight, as straight as
mine were. He had me doing it again.

He caught my gaze and smiled approvingly. "Let this be a lesson," he said. "Don't get
caught up in the clothes or the hair or other trappings. And always check out the thumbs
as soon as you can."

By now I'd dropped my paper, the events of the day and of yesterday lost in the print. I
was going to have a hard time going back to them. "I, I, I don't understand," I sputtered.
"Who are you? What do you want? Were you going around in disguise the first time I
met you?" I figured it was more likely that was the disguise than this.

The stranger grinned, amused by my confusion. "That's a lot of questions, my boy. Let's
just say I've taken an interest in you."

"But why? Why me? Is it this nutty thing about thumbs? Do you go around accosting
people whose thumbs look like yours?"

The grin subsided, and a more pensive look replaced it. "No, not quite," he said quietly.
He reflected a moment, then added, "well, maybe yes, in a manner of speaking." He
tilted his head and looked out at the water. There were a few boats speeding along, some
brave early souls testing the spring weather. It would be cool out in the water still, but
they had to get back to it, like some amphibian returning to the sea. I'd always wondered
what a life with a speedboat would be like -- a blonde in a skimpy bikini on my arm and a
drink in my hand. Life certainly seemed that uncomplicated for the people in that world.
I was always on the shore, watching and wondering. No matter how hard I tried, I
couldn't quite put myself on those boats. Nope, I was on the bench with a crazy man
whom I suspected was going to start telling me about aliens again.

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Alien Among Us

"You see," he said, giving me a sly look, "I made you."

Oh, boy, that tore it; he really was nuts. I needed to get out of here -- gracefully if
possible, forcefully if necessary, but I was going to leave.

"Sure, sure," I agreed reassuringly. "Then you'll understand that I need to get back to
work. I have big things, very important things to do, back at work." I admit; I was being
condescending, but he started it with the crazy comments that he expected me to listen to.
I folded up my sandwich bag and my newspaper and prepared to stand up. He just
looked at me like I was the crazy one.

"I'm not crazy," he said confidently. "Just give me two minutes of your time, then you
can go do your important things."

Two minutes. Was that two minutes as in one hundred and twenty seconds, or was that
two minutes as in the end of an NFL game, which basically meant it lasted as long as you
could make it last until you got into that end zone? I didn't know, but I paused, perched
on the edge of the bench. That way I could flee quickly if I had to. It might be
interesting to hear, just for the record. I didn't have to believe it -- I wasn't going to
believe it -- but it would make for a better story later if I heard his no doubt convoluted
explanation. The man watched my balancing act and appeared amused again. He sensed
when I'd decided to stay, and started speaking in a low voice.

"I didn't literally make you, but I'm responsible for your being made. You and the others
like you."

OK, maybe staying wasn't such a hot idea. I microscopically moved closer to the edge of
the bench, prepared to leap up at a moment's notice.

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Alien Among Us

"Let me guess a few facts about you," the man said, still with that eerie calm. He gave no
indication of being concerned that I might actually get up.

"You come from some medium-sized town, probably in the U.S. You have two to three
siblings, with at least one of them being a sister. None of you still live where you grew
up; in fact, none of you lives within five hundred, maybe even a thousand miles of each
other."

Hmm. I did have a brother and a sister, both older. My parents had retired to Brevard,
North Carolina several years ago, while my brother lived in France doing some sort of
international economic consulting. My sister lived in San Diego, where she was a
professor. All of us kids had moved around a lot in our careers, but now that I thought
about it, his thousand mile limit did seem to be true. I didn't say anything, just looked at
him with narrowed eyes. He smiled encouragingly.

"Still with me, champ? OK, let's see, what else? You remember your childhood, but just
bits and pieces. You could tell me the names of all your grade school teachers, but you'd
have a hard time remembering the names of any of your friends from then." He leaned
forward and jabbed a finger into my chest to reinforce his next point. "In fact, I'll bet that
you're not in touch with any of the people you remember from growing up. I'll bet your
brothers and sisters aren't either, or if they are, it's only one or two people, and those
people have moved on as well."

I had to break this monologue. I'm not admitting that everything he said was one hundred
percent correct, but he was pretty damn close. It was beginning to worry me.

"What's all this about?" I asked, trying for toughness but perhaps ending up whining
slightly. "Lucky guesses; big deal. Do you go around trying this on people until you
guess right, like some mobile fortune teller?"

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Alien Among Us

"I must have hit a nerve," he teased. "Pretty impressive, eh? I'll go one further. I'd
predict that you've never lived in one place for more than five years, and that when you
move you change careers too. Not just little job changes, but real changes -- different
companies, different fields, different jobs entirely."

Now he had hit a nerve. My job history had been circuitous, to say the least. I'd gone to
college at Indiana University, then off to graduate school in math at Berkeley. I got tired
of school -- now those people were crazy -- so I left. I ended up doing programming at a
computer company in Silicon Valley, back in the old, old days when you could count
them on one hand. That was fun for awhile, but after three years I was bored and burnt
out. One of the owners and I had always gotten into political discussions -- most of his
staff were only interested in their programmers and hacking, so he was thankful to have
someone around who was interested in the rest of the world.

As it turned out, this owner had a friend who was in Congress and needed someone to
staff him on science and technology issues, so he wrangled a job for me. I spent two
years on the Hill, neither learning nor teaching much about science and technology but
getting an eye-opening look at politics from the inside. The adage about the making of
laws and sausages is truer than you'd like to know, although I've avoided the sausage part
of that particular tour.

That led, surprisingly enough, to a large foundation in New York, focusing on their
grants in the science arena. Along the way I got interested in the application of
technology in general, and computers in particular, to health care, and ended up taking a
job a little over two years later with a large multi-specialty physician group in
Minneapolis. We'd worked with them on a grant, a collaborative data effort between
them and a local hospital system, and then they had the audacity to recruit me to run it. I
started as their tech guru, but sort of evolved into more functions, including negotiating
with the managed care plans and other entities that made the group's life both possible
and complicated.

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Alien Among Us

After five years of that, I was ready for a break, especially from those brutal winters. I
accepted a job with a pharmaceutical company outside of Chicago -- I know, going from
Minneapolis to Chicago to avoid the bad winters is like going from Phoenix to Death
Valley to avoid the heat. I spent three years there, starting with developing and
marketing disease management programs to physician groups and ending up doing
consumer marketing. That led me, indirectly, to here, back doing things with computers
but this time from the marketing side rather than the programming side.

It was an eclectic career, I'd be the first to admit, but one I was proud it. As the stranger
had predicted, it was a lot of very different jobs in several very different fields. There
were logical reasons for each move, and some common attributes that helped me succeed
in each job, but I smugly always thought most people couldn't have done what I'd done.
But that was neither here nor there; here was this stranger sitting beside me claiming he
knew about my life -- and seeming to. Still, I wasn't ready to give in so easily.

"So what?" I objected. "Lots of people move around a lot these days, change jobs and
such. It's just the way the economy is these days. Big deal. What does that have to do
with anything?"

He patiently regarded me, waiting me out. Maybe he'd run out of guesses. Maybe he
knew I was struggling to think up objections.

I broke first. That wasn't a good sign; first rule of negotiating is: make them move first.
"You said you made me, a little while ago," I noted carefully. "What did you mean?
What is 'make me' supposed to mean?"

His eyes grew wide with pleasure. He sat back on the bench and smiled broadly for a
second, then looked around in all directions. He turned around to face me and seemed to
mimic my position on the edge of the bench. We sat, a foot apart and staring at each
other. To an observer, I must have seemed confused and wary, concerned about
whatever the confident second man was telling me. That's how it seemed to me.

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Alien Among Us

"I asked you when we met if you knew you weren't human," he said deliberately. He
stared directly into my eyes with that powerful, gleaming intelligence. "I was the one
who developed your specifications. Your body type and general appearance. More
importantly, your intelligence, your rootlessness, your adaptability, even your family
structure and memories."

"My appearance?" I repeated stupidly. Oh, great; that was clear thinking. Of all the
things he listed I picked appearance to question him on? I must have been in shock.

"Sure," he agreed smoothly. "Let's see, you look thirty, so I'd guess you're really about
forty. You're designed to look younger than you are. When you are seventy you'll look
like you're in your fifties."

"Why would you design for that?" I really must have been in shock; I was buying this
crap! I swear, it was like these words were just coming out of my mouth without first
going through my brain. Focus, Chris, focus, I admonished myself.

The stranger looked apologetic. "Well, it wasn't the intent per se; it was more an
unexpected outcome. We knew humans aged but didn't realize how poorly they were
made, so we underestimated how much our versions should age."

"Your versions?" No wonder words were coming out of my mouth unbidden; my brain
seemed to be shutting down under the onslaught of these radical ideas. He seemed to
realize I was struggling, and pulled back slightly. He took another look around us, then
turned to me again.

"That's enough for today, I think. I'll be in touch."

With that, he stood up and walked away, soon disappearing into the other people out
walking. I watched him walk away.

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Alien Among Us

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