Benny and Anka stood on a promontory overlooking a broad New Mexican valley. The point was secluded enough for the both of them.
Benny etched a circle in the sand at Anka’s feet. He leaned back, tilting his body—his neck, if you could call it that, didn’t bend that way. The look he gave her said: You remember, this is the limit.
“Ya, ya Benny, we still got cameras out to there.” Anka’s cabin, high in the mountains, miles from Taos, came under attack from hunters every fall as her property butted up against national forest. Her half-mile driveway, spurred off a BLM road, collected deer-hungry Californian yahoos who frequently wandered in lost—disturbing her privacy. It was this privacy that had, for fifteen years, protected Benny’s identity.
The thickset Benny, his arms hanging past what Anka would call his knees, rubbed out the circle and drew, instead, a rectangle. He began filling in the tall box, one line at a time. When he reached the top, Anka took a quick breath and raised an arthritic hand to her mouth.
“You mean… You mean you’re finished? All done. All, ready…” She pinched her lips together, lowered her hand to her chest and hugged herself. “So… So soon?”
Benny spread his long arms, palms up. A glance would indicate normal hands. However, close inspection would reveal the actual number of fingers and digits. Such a revelation would compel anyone to knit their brow, force a smile, and step slowly away.
He tried to shrug, a tree stump attempting to shift in the earth. Benny had learned to articulate many of Anka’s words, and his hearing, Anka would admit, was exquisite, but his native range and manipulation of sound was pitched much higher, ultra-sonic. With effort he drew out a low register reply, “Ssooon?”
It came out like the squeak of a dying-mouse.
Anka understood. She chuckled and twirled a finger around her temple. “Ah, look at me. Fifteen years go by and I think it’s like yesterday. You’d think I’d gone daffy.”
“Quaaaaccck, quaaaaccck,” Benny said, reaching for her hand.
She let him take it and the pair worked their way back to the cabin, she, cautious of the stony path, he, waddling on his pedestal like legs.
“When will you go?” Anka asked. She stood at the wood stove adjusting the flavor of their stew. It was composed primarily of the mushrooms Benny cultivated in a cave a short distance away. His metabolism, they’d found, couldn’t stand animal or plant proteins. He could consume some fats, a few starches, but the fungi served his unique physiology best. Anka had made adjustments. From time to time, while in town getting supplies or doing other things, she’d splurge at local fast food restaurants. Benny said he could smell the evidence wafting from her skin. “Ain’t my fault you’re sensitive,” she’d say.
Benny watched her cook. “Beeeen ready, twenty nights. Leave, soooon.”
“You should’a spoke up.” She took a sip of stew, nodded her approval. “Be good to finally be rid o’ you.”
He set two bowls on the counter and rested a hand on her shoulder, with his long arms it was an easy reach. “Miss you, three.”
Anka tsk’d, “Miss you, too!”
His laugh came like a squeegee stuttering on a window.
“Oh, you, come here.” She stooped and gave him a hug. He felt like immovable granite. The floorboards groaned at his every step. Over the years, he’d managed to find the words to explain his world to her and how its gravity was more than twice that of Earth’s. Anka had bought Astrophysics for Dummies, which helped, but mostly she came to realize that his extraordinary strength and weight came standard for his race. He was, after all, an alien.
She wondered aloud, “If you’ve been ready for weeks…”
“Waiting, planet position, and…”
Anka set his bowl of stew on the table and helped herself to the flatbread she’d cooked. She sat and began dipping her bread. Between bites she said, her voice edgy, “And you what? What else have you been up to in the cave of yours?” She looked away less often now. Benny’s eating style disturbed her still, yet, the fleeting thought that he’d soon be gone endeared him more with his eccentric behavior. He had made adjustments too, she admitted. For instance, he now used a spoon.
“Will show you, ingestion complete.” Benny, with his exquisite motor skills, could have consumed the meal in seconds. On her behalf, he’d learned to pace himself. He stood before the table, sitting was not something his race often did, and methodically ate his meal.
“You have a surprise for me?”
“A gift?” Anka swallowed hard and pushed away her bowl. She bit her lower lip and fought back a tear. “I… I have a surprise for you as well.”
Anka rose abruptly and vanished into her bedroom.
“I’m sorry, Benny, I’m sorry. Leave me be for now.”
Benny’s mushroom cavern, nestled against the foot of the mesa, provided more than just a source of food. Buried within, he’d hidden his vessel and alongside, an assembly of equipment used to extract heavy water—the fuel he required for his return journey. During the process he’d managed to extract other elements as well.
He reflected on his short time here, a fraction of his race’s longevity.
When they’d first met, fifteen years ago, it was he who’d saved her. His ship, though triply redundant, had suffered a catastrophic puncture; he’d had to make an emergency, but controlled landing. During descent and while scanning for a hiding place, his sensors had discovered a planetary native who’d become stranded in a deep ravine. His race’s knowledge of this species indicated this individual required immediate assistance: immobile and cooling, it would soon perish.
Against better judgement, he’d rescued and nursed it back to stability. During lucid moments, it had appeared to become aware of its predicament, yet had remained calm. He later surmised that his comically high-pitched noises had disarmed it despite his obvious, non-native appearance.
“A real, goddamn alien. Holy shit.” had been its first words. “Holy shit.”
He’d recorded the event, that first one and from then on. Against his expectations, the native became amenable to his presence. Within days, it had regained mobility and returned to its home. He’d expected broad exposure, a contingency his mission forbid. Leave no evidence, the directive stipulated. But no exposure came.
She, not it—he learned later, returned alone to the cavern and now, fifteen planetary revolutions had elapsed and he’d collected enough fuel to power his trip home.
And, despite better judgement, he’d become captivated.
“What’s this?” Anka asked, recomposed. Her voice tight.
She unfolded the cloth, one of the shirts she’d purchased for him, his own clothing would have caused concern had he been seen. Folding back the sleeve, a glimmer caught her eye. “Is this?” She exposed the full length of a five pound bar of gold.
“One here. Ten and six more. Hidey-hole.”
Early on, Anka and he had worked out a plan for him to quickly vanish. The hidey-hole, a root cellar twenty yards from the cabin, disguised like a rock pile, was the solution. They’d had to use it for the hunters and twice for the law; the sheriff had come calling, once for poachers, and once for an escaped convict.
Anka began to cry.
“No,” she sobbed. “I’m sorry, Benny. I’m so sorry.”
He moved to console her and she shook him off.
Multiple sweeps of red light flashed through the cabin’s windows. Anka had disabled the alarm system.
“I learned more than you know,” she said, tears streaming down. “I learned what your ship can do. Its energy and how it works.” Again, she pushed his hand away, like moving a stiff oaken branch. “I told you I don’t care about the planet, about what happens to humanity.” Anka stood and moved away from him. “But, I do. And I know you can help us.”
“No. Not allowed.”
“You, Benny, you can help us.”
Benny spread his arms and she moved hesitantly into them. She pressed his head, as she could, to her belly. He wrapped his arms around her…
And kept squeezing.
“Benny, I can’t breathe.” She struggled to push him away. She began beating on his rock hard skull. “Let… Let me go.”
“So sorry, Anka.”
When she passed out, he carried her inert body to her bed. Back in the kitchen, he lifted the trapdoor and descended to the escape tunnel that led to the hidey-hole. From there, avoiding the eyes of the half-dozen law enforcement officers, he made his way to his mushroom cavern.
That night, after the ambulance had left, and all the red lights had pulled away, Benny, the alien, bid a bitter farewell. His reflections, for his final report: a species blood runs thick. Thicker than friendship. Thicker than love.