The Felines of Sheldorf 3 do not eat humans. They just like to catch them and play with them, which, when it comes down to it, is what most alien abductions are about. The humans only die if a Feline misses a catch by accident or loss of attention. It was a good thing I'd watched a bit of Star Trek in my day, or I'd have been terrified. Dealing with omnipotent paranoid aliens was all in a day's work on Star Trek, just as it is for pop star music agents. I spread my fingers, divided into two clumps, in the Vulcan fashion. They responded by unretracting their retractable claws. We were coming to a form of understanding, although I doubted they spoke English, and I'm not good with my StarTrek languages. "Nice catch, kitty," I said encouragingly. "Now concentrate on catching me like that every time, or better yet, set me down gently so I can return to my car..."
"Your car is being assimilated into the metal supplies
for our vessel. You don't need no stinking car. And don't call
me kitty unless you're my mother... You don't look like my mother,
either... We've got plans for you, earthnik. We want the secret
"Secret formula? Like you think I know secrets? I'm a door-to-door banjo salesman. There are no secrets."
"We want the secret formula for original Coke. We will take it back to Sheldorf and make millions."
"The last guys to try that were arrested so fast you couldn't say Coca-cola. Sorry, not a chance!"
"Okay then, back to the Toss the Human game. Only I warn you, I'm getting bored with it..."
After a while we both tired of the game, and they set
me down. Being advanced life forms, they no longer ate any sentient
being that wandered into their territory. I got to chatting with
one, who said its name was Snickersnack. It turns out they were doing
the equivalent of human teens, out bombing about in their parents' cars,
although in this case it was Multidimensional Space-time Resonators.
I asked why they didn't just call them space ships, and they pointed out
that "space ship" is not as cool as "Multidimensional Space-time Resonators,"
and furthermore space ships only travel through one universe, while this
ship could travel through all the universes. Since I didn't have
a clue as to what they were talking about, I started delivering my standard
sales lecture on banjos.
"It's too bad your Resonator is gobbling my car, since I had a sample case of fine banjos aboard. Let's see, how many fingers, er, claws do you have? Seven? You would qualify for any of the major banjo types--4, 5, 6, 12, banjolin, and banjolele. The banjolele, a combination of the ukelele and banjo favored by Bertie Wooster, might be just the instrument for you. But then my banjo case is being digested by your traveling conveyance..."
Snickersnack hurried off and returned with a half melted sample case. I proceeded to demonstrate "Hang down your head, Tom Dooley," which for some reason didn't impress them. Then I thought of the Dave Macon song about the Cat on the Tennesee Farm, with the lyrics, "Big cat spit in the little cat's eye, little cat, little cat, don't you cry..." If I had any tuna, I'd have these Felines eating out of my hand... Soon we were all singing, "The Cat Came Back," and they broke out the catnip. We finished the night singing, "What's new Pussycat," with emphasis on the woe woe woes. I got several banjo orders as well, but later wondered how I'd deliver them.
Then I remembered the reunion. I told my newfound
litter mates that I'd missed my flight to Minneapolis. They offered
to take me to Christian Tech directly, which made me purr with pleasure.
They did some snarly argument about which buttons to push, and finally
consulted the internet to locate the college. In a few minutes we
touched down in the woods behind Old Norse Hall.
Old Norse was the oldest building on campus, and the scene of many vigorous debates over evolutionary biology when I went there. Christian Tech, as its name implies, tries to instill the deepest respect in its students for both Christianity and Science. As a result, we seldom got past Darwin in Biology, nor anywhere near the Big Bang in Cosmology. The school's Scandinavian heritage also implied acceptance at a visceral level of randy gods with big hammers chasing after trickster gods with goat carts. Fortunately, being a liberal, I knew it was possible to believe two or three ways of perceiving reality at once, as well as believing in several totally impossible things for fun or good measure, so I made it through the road bumps of academia mostly intact.
I suppose, in retrospect, I did present
an unusual appearance for a returning alumnus. I tried to explain
to people how my clothes were all matted and dirty from a death defying
kayak experience, and that I hadn't a change of clothes along since aliens
had abducted me and brought me directly to the reunion. In my previous
party experience, kayaking and alien abduction were typical party conversation.
I guess the Midwest is a bit stuffier, since most people looked at me askance
and avoided further contact. I kept glancing at them out of the corner
of my eye, and I could see that was what they were doing.
That suited me just fine. I had my doubts about attending this thing in the first place, and even though I didn't expect to see a lot of my old friends, the fact was that I didn't recognize a one of them. True--we were thirty years older, and the names of some of the men and most of the women had changed (not to mention a few sexes), but still...
Then, one woman came up to me--"Hi Bob, are you still playing the banjo?"
Clearly, although she had my name wrong--she remembered me. I cut a wide swath with the banjo in my day, so she was no doubt one of my female admirers.
"Yes, I'm even a banjo salesperson," I said, "although I'm afraid you've got my name wrong. I'm Phil Steen. And you are?"
"I'm sure your name is Bob," she said. "We were in the group, Bobo and the Bob-cy Twins. You were Bob, and I was Nancy--we pretended to be the Bob-cy Twins--remember?"
"I think I would remember if my name were Bob..."
"Oh, I get it, Bob, things went so bad you had to change your name. I won't tell a soul, 'Phil.' And here's a twenty--you should go get some new clothes at Good Will..."
So then I told her about the kayaking trip and the aliens, and she wandered off with the rest.
One of the dynamic young teachers who befriended me at
college was here at the reunion, in a wheel chair. The first two
years he was friendly to all the students and his office door was always
open and welcoming. Then he got tenure, and I didn't see him nearly
so much. I guess it's a lot busier being a tenured professor.
His hair was grayer than mine, but his eyes were still bright.
After reintroducing myself to him, he asked me how it felt to be back at old TC, since he'd never left and so was unable to experience that emotion.
I said, "Don't you mean old CT, for Christian Tech?"
He looked baffled, and said, "You've even forgotten the name of your college? It's Technically Christian, for goodness sake."
I said, "Of course it's technically Christian, even though there were plenty of agnostics when I was there, but I remember well the college name was Christian Tech."
The professor said I was stubborn like all the young fools who refused to accept the LaMarckian understanding of genetic inheritance--couldn't grow a nose to spite my face, he said.
The professor wheeled off to join the other "askance lookers" at the refreshment table, and I began to have misgivings as to whether this was the right college after all. Perhaps the Felines mistyped the college name and took me to a similar but different named college.
I picked up a color brochure for the alumni, and saw that the town was the same as I remembered, but the name of the college was as the old professor said. I went out for a walk to try to clear my head. A familiar glowing light appeared above me as I walked, and The Resonator silently landed beside me in a clearing in the woods.
"Get in," said Snickersnack. "Wrong universe. I told Vorpal not to touch the multiverse controls, and look what happened. Our race doesn't even exist in this universe, so we can't get home here. So the only solution is to put it in reverse, but we need the same mass as when we came, or we'll just end up somewhere else."
"Sounds good to me. I never wanted to live in a universe where I was part of Bobo and the Bob-cy twins."
Later I began regretting leaving that parallel universe so hastily. There were a lot of goodies at the reunion, and my knowledge of chemistry leads me to believe they would be undigestible mirror image formulas--so I could pig out without gaining weight...
Back on the Resonator, They did some snarly
argument about which buttons to push, and finally consulted Google Universe
to locate the correct college and universe. It turned out that earlier
they had used a Wikipedia entry that had been altered subtly as the basis
of their calculations. They shrugged it aside, guessing it
was other young Felines pulling a prank... In a few minutes we touched
down in the woods behind Old Norse Hall.
This time I did recognize a bunch of my old classmates, by their name tags. Otherwise I would have wondered who all these old fogies were. This time I refrained from discussing aliens or my rumpled clothing. People still left me behind in favor of the refreshments table after a while, but that was because we all realized we had little in common anymore. Even though I was pretty sure this was the right universe, our memories didn't match up too well.
Then I was surprised to see the same old professor, this time walking with a cane...
"Professor, what's the name of this college?"
"I can see you're as bright as the incoming freshmen today. It's the same name it's always been, Christian Tech."
"Rah Rah for old CT! And what are the two major factions in the evolution debate?"
"Are you sure you graduated? You didn't learn much here, did you..."
"No, but that's besides the point. I'm just trying to make sure this is my universe."
"Uh, certainly. You're welcome to it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must make my way to the refreshment table...
I was about to leave the reunion when
Tina spotted me. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that she looked
as old as I did. I'm not sure, as I said previously, why I came to
this reunion, since I didn't really expect to see people I cared about,
but then, suddenly there was Tina... What do you say to an old girlfriend,
particularly if you want to return home to your wife?
"Tina, I'm amazed..."
We talked about our families, and memories of our brief time together. I wanted to tell her how, having just visited an alternate universe, it's likely that everything possible has happened in some universe or another. Of course I realized that saying this would make her look at me nervously and head off for the refreshment table. But my point would have been, that in some other universe, we might have remained together, married, and settled down. Then again, we could have married, got divorced, and repeated the process endlessly with other confused people. That's the problem with endless multiverses--finding a reasonably good one that works for you.
I mulled it over as our conversation began to wind down. But suppose we were soul mates, would it be fair to not speak to her with absolute honesty?
So I told her how I'd come to the reunion on a Multidimensional Space-time Resonator with some large cat-people, and that even though I didn't find that we'd been married in an alternate universe, I didn't discount the possibility.
As she headed for the refreshment table, I headed outside, peering up into the darkened sky for a fast ride home...
|7. The Ravine Runner||8.
|11. The Secret Six||12.
|13. The Old School|
Lost in the City
The Curse of
Pirates of the Puget Sound
Building a platform, plank by plank
How I spent
Help I am trapped
in the future
Nose of Death