OWL AND CHEESE
Dreamed 1986/7/8 by Chris Wayan
An alien who crashed on Earth takes human form, to fit in and lie low while she tries to fix her ship. I become friends with her; in fact I get a crush on her, for she's quite cute, pink hair and all. OK, she's not the most observant alien... but she seems to like me, too.
I slowly realize she's not quite what she seems. The evidence mounts: she's been quietly manipulating Earth's economy. She seems to want lower rare-metal prices. Something she needs, to fix her ship? Her homesickness is understandable, but she seems willing to go pretty far to assuage it--cause shortages, famines, wars... at this rate she could end our civilization just to get away from us! Only her own predicament seems to matter.
So, out on the lawn in my parents' back yard, I confront her with my evidence; and... she admits it all. She'll do anything to get off this dirtball--including WRECK it.
Furious, I jump on her, squashing and twisting her as painfully as I can. She calls for help in a little-girl voice, and my parents come out and hover, appalled. "He's trying to rape me!" she screams. "No, I'm trying to HURT her!" I snarl, and keep on.
And my parents stand there, doubtful, and let me torture her. More than I hoped for, from them.
Gradually, as my pressure continues, she starts to shapeshift. I don't relent, no matter what form she takes. At last she confesses her original shape (rather like the movie ET) was as much a front as her human mask. She wanted us to like her. She still won't show her real form, though I don't really care. What matters isn't her species, but who pays her salary! She let enough hints slip to confirm my suspicion she didn't crash here but came to scout. Paid by a large interstellar corporation to soften us up for a takeover!
Now I don't even feel guilty about torturing her; all I have to deal with is other people's outrage.
In the end, she changes to a small furry flying thing, and escapes me...
But I can fly too, and follow.
Around the world! South America, across the Atlantic, the Sahara, Arabia, north into Central Asia, up the Urals to Scandinavia...
At last I track her to a deep, straight valley, suddenly blocked by a high narrow ridge, like a dam. Which it essentially is: the wall is hollow, and hides an ancient secret--a UFO depot. For eons, aliens have landed, stayed, played, tidied up, and left supplies for the next ship, ten thousand years later. Each group left a great stone or two, dedicated to one of their gods; these sacred boulders litter the slope of the ridge now, like keepsakes of a great, slow glacier; not of ice, but of tourism.
I have a garden here. Not for food or flowers, but to prove to people there's something fishy here. Plants on this ridge grow at a magical rate: up to an inch per second! What's happening to the life force? It's overconcentrated! Is this HER doing?
Maybe not, but this is where our long quarrel comes to a head. We're both fierce little winged things, and in that form we fight over stony slopes, around the hidden starship berths. Hiss and slash, dive and grapple and soar...
Then company lands.
And not because she has friends now. The energy of the landing seems to have wakened the old god-stones. They shiver and twitch like sleeping rhinos.
And then they dance! Oh, not far. They lack legs. But far enough. The earth starts to shake. The slope starts to go. Landslide!
And then... the Great Change.
Plants turn upside down, or simply vanish; animals and humans change forms; all human technology disappears. Not just the valley; everywhere on Earth.
In less than a minute, all that's left is water, air, stone and living things. Well... things. Weird umbrellas of straw loom everywhere, some with nets of lichen. Animals shelter under them. People gravitate to them too. Since all the trees are upside down, there is no other shelter.
Humanity? Just a scattering of mutant refugees, who don't know how to live in this suddenly alien world. I show them what little I know of the new rules.
Hawks and eagles survived the change better than most... probably because they were in the air. But now they're huge, and hostile... a serious danger.
Among the humans, I recognize only one: a man who answers to the name James Blish. But he also says he's J.G. Ballard! Well, that makes sense--in THE CRYSTAL WORLD, Ballard let the world mutate into a Max Ernst painting, while Blish let all the demons of hell out for one night in BLACK EASTER and THE DAY AFTER JUDGMENT. Blish-Ballard wrote this story we're trapped in, too. I ask him what to expect.
"I'm as puzzled as you about this explosive... transformation. As a writer, I may have planned it, but I'm not sure: perhaps an editorial intrusion? It seems more so much more Lovecraftian than me! Old gods awakened from stone... that sort of thing. Not me, just not me."
I have to admit it lacks subtlety.
A little owl flies up... and people, wary of sharp-beaked birds by now, pick up stones.
But the owl calls my name! In a voice I know.
She perches on my shoulder, smooths her feathers down, and nips my ear tenderly with her beak. She says "You know, I protected you."
"What do you mean, protected? Look at this mess!"
"You thought you were safely out of the ridge-caves when the Change hit, but there are sacred boulders all over the head of the valley. Well, you were next to a rock-god who hates cheese so much, it converted all the cheese in the world to pure energy--and you had 13 milligrams of blue cheese in a stain on your shirt, on that pocket above your heart! You and anyone near you would have been vaporized! But I damped the reaction. Despite our differences, you're my friend."
I'm wary about this: it's her word without proof. Or... it could be true, and still not mean much: their law may require her not to let people be killed directly by the Change. Why else would she use this bizarre method to sweep us aside?
And it's unlikely I'd have blue cheese in my pocket, since I never eat it--I'm allergic. I think she's just trying to get me to feel indebted. Still... maybe she's honestly mistaken--you never know.
I say "Thank you," and try to keep my shoulder from twitching.
Am I being unfair? Surely, she could have killed me, when we wrestled. Even when I was torturing her, she could have gotten away sooner by shapeshifting. She didn't HAVE to confess what she did.
Did she want me to know?
Maybe she IS my friend. In difficult circumstances. Hired to destroy this place, but finding she kind of likes it, despite herself...
Despite us. I mean, look how I've treated HER.
In some North American tribes, an owl calling your name is a sign of trouble or death. She does seem to be trouble, this "friend," this fallen soul who seemed to just want to go back to heaven, but really was playing a far uglier game. And yet... maybe, despite her contractual obligation to her employers, maybe she's trying to behave honorably. Maybe she even likes me. Like Ballard-Blish, the Author Himself... I truly wasn't sure.
Enemy? Friend? Or enemy BECOMING a friend?
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