Downstairs, in the old farmhouse, the T.V. was still on.
Darlene padded down the steps to see who was up at this late hour.
It was Rusty. The redheaded little boy had apparently snuck
down when he thought everyone else was asleep.
Dar gave a sigh as she stepped into the living room. "Rus,
honey, what are you doing up?"
Rusty kept his eyes fixed on the television screen. "They're
running stories about Big Guy." Pain seeped into his words as he
sniffed. "I wanted to see him one last time."
Darlene sat down next to her nephew and put her arm around
his shoulders. "Aw, hon, you can always go talk to the new Big Guy."
"NO," Rusty's face became defiant. "It's not the same; it's
not Big Guy, just some new robot. He doesn't even look like Big Guy."
Darlene looked into Rusty's griefstricken face. "I know it's
not the same, and you have a right to be sad, but you can't go moping
around like this. Would Big Guy want you to be gloomy every day?"
Rusty bit his lip as tears sprang to his eyes. "No," he
croaked. "Big Guy would want me to be happy." The boy let out a
tremendous sob. "I miss him so much."
Darlene drew Rusty to her and held him tight. "I know, I
know." She felt as if she could do nothing to ease his pain. She
remembered Rusty telling her stories of how he and Big Guy would
talk for hours. The huge robot had always found time for his
deceased partner's namesake. It almost seemed as if Big Guy had a
special place in his heart for the boy, if such a thing were possible.
"All I can tell you, hon, is that the pain will lessen in
time. It won't go away totally, but things will get better. Life
will go on."
Rusty buried his head in her lap. "Aunt Dar, I don't ever
want to forget him. Not ever." His muffled words sounded resolved
and subdued. "I won't forget him."
Darlene smiled through the tears that were forming in her
own eyes. "No one will, Rus. He saved us all."
He woke up to a clouded world. His surroundings seemed
muddled, as if the very substance of reality was being swirled about
in hurricane force winds. At first he thought something was wrong
with his vision, but after examining his hands close up, he realized
that they focused perfectly.
It was then that he saw movement beyond the storm. Strange
elongated figures were coming towards him, making no sound at all.
He tried to get away, struggle free. But whatever kept him
suspended in the tempest also kept him mostly immobile. He tried to
scream, and found that he couldn't do that either. So he simply
waited as the figures approached.
A voice boomed out from the still silence.
"Jonathan Edward Foster?"
Jon's head jerked back as he realized that he must be dead.
He laughed to himself. The explosion leapt into his mind once
again. Suddenly he found he could speak again. "I'm dead, right?"
Laughter seemed to peal from the distorted reality surrounding
Jon once again tried to move. "Who are you, and what do you
want?" He still wasn't quite sure what to make of this new
development. He had always thought heaven would be much different
than this. Where was Saint Peter? Where were those pearly gates?
"You aren't dead, so you have no need for such things." The
voice was mocking him.
Another voice entered the void. "He isn't very smart, is
he?" This speaker was female, whereas the first had been a man's
"Well, no one said they were intelligent, my dear. As a
matter of fact, they are rather caught up in their own imagined
Girlish laughter trickled through Jon's mind. "So what we
have here is a good-looking but rather dumb example of a human
being." More giggling ensued.
"You think that's funny?" Jon once again strained against
his invisible bonds. "I'm not stupid." He gritted his teeth and
tried to get a better look at his assailants. "I certainly don't
deserve to be treated like this."
"Very well." On cue, the distortion disappeared and Jon fell
five feet to land with a thud on his bottom. "You couldn't hurt us
Jon rubbed his eyes as bright light flooded into them. He
soon saw the two that had spoken before. One was a man, very tall
and handsome, with a beard and white strands that streaked his black
hair at the temples.
The other was a woman, but unlike any woman Jon had ever seen
before. She possessed snow-white hair that hung down to the middle
of her back. Ice-blue eyes burned in a face so pale that she looked
just like the porcelain dolls his mother collected. She stared at
him with one perfectly shaped eyebrow arched in a derisive tone.
The young woman almost didn't look real.
"He looks funny." She wrinkled her nose at him, as if he
were some strange animal. "I would have thrown him back."
Jon's eyes widened as anger appeared on his face.
"What am I, a catfish? Now wait just a second, who do you
think you are, just snatching people?"
"Really, how droll." The stately man turned toward his young
companion, ignoring Jon. "I really don't see what the Squillachi
feared in these creatures. They don't exactly inspire terror."
The white haired woman/girl (Jon hadn't decided on an age yet)
gave the older man a feral grin. "I suppose we shouldn't let him
suffer too much." She walked closer to Jon, which gave him an acute
desire to run in the other direction. This was beginning to freak
"You were brought here for a noble cause, if it helps any."
She paused and judged his reaction. Jon kept a wary eye on her.
"Your friends think you are dead." She smiled at that, knowing it
would irk him. "The whole pitiful planet has been lamenting the
loss of your Big Guy."
"Yes," the tall man said, "We saw it on T.V."
"However, we wished for you to be dead. It makes it easier
for everyone involved, for you have been chosen to represent your
world. You are the best of the best. The smartest and bravest, are
Jon gave her a blank stare. "I wouldn't claim to be."
"But others claim you are."
Jon's eyes narrowed. "How would you know what others say I am?"
The woman/girl's face became innocent as she dodged his
question. "Why, I can see it in your noble heart." Sarcasm dripped
from her words.
"I wouldn't claim to be noble, either." He glared at her,
hoping that his bravado would cover the sinking feeling that was
gnawing on his insides. They wanted to play cat and mouse, probably
to test him. He wondered what they would do to him if they tired of
The older man seemed to see through Jon's act. "We certainly
won't kill you." This man had to be reading Jon's mind, the young
pilot thought. "We are only borrowing you for a spell."
"Yes," Jon said, "and would you mind telling me WHY?"
"Oh, yes, the why is always important, isn't it? You see, we
wanted so badly to come meet these human creatures we have heard so
much about. Word gets around the galaxy, you know."
"No, I don't know." Jon wished his captors would cut to the
chase. He had always been impatient.
"Don't be so testy." The woman/girl gave him a warning look.
"And when we came, earlier this week -- by that, I mean in
Earth weeks -- what we discovered was truly amazing. You certainly
are on your way to something grand, but you lack a basic...how shall
I say this? ...refinement. We have laws in our part of the galaxy."
The man left off, reluctant to go any further.
"And what the heck is that supposed to mean?" Jon glared at
the woman/girl, who glared right back. "I find YOUR lack of
refinement unsettling. You kidnap me, trick the whole world into
thinking I'm dead, and then torture me with riddles and nonsense.
WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?" His last words came out with more anger
than he had anticipated.
The woman/girl drew herself up to her full height, offended.
"I am Her Royal Highness the Grand Duchess of the twelve crowns of
Andonni. The champion of the battle of Gardos, the smiter of the
evil Clag. I could destroy you with one gesture. Your dirty little
ball of a planet could be rubble at my direction."
Jon stood his ground, suddenly receiving strength from places
unknown. "Thanks Barbie, he said, for that rousing statement, but
if you'll remember, I'm not from your part of the galaxy, and all
that bullcrap means nothing to me. I don't care if you are the
grand duchess of the entire universe. What gives you the right to
mess up my life?"
The older man rolled his eyes at the tiff in progress.
"He'll do," he said.
"Father," the woman/girl screamed. "How could you say that?
He is an infidel, an idiot; he insulted me to my face. No one does
that and lives to see the rising of another sun."
"He was brave enough to face you, wasn't he, my dear? I
rather thought he wouldn't have the backbone. Most men cower in
fear when you go on a rampage."
The woman/girl glared at Jon openly. "I am NOT marrying
that, that, freak."
Jon's jaw dropped. "Whoa, I think there has been a huge
mistake. I can't get married, I um, this has to be a bad dream."
"You do not find me attractive?" Now her eyes lit up with a
righteous fire that Jon backed away from. Women all seemed to be
the same, no matter what part of the galaxy they were from.
"Look, I assume that we aren't even the same species. And
well, you sort of creep me out."
The woman/girl's hands balled into fists. "That was the
wrong thing to say, Jon Edward Foster. Prepare to die." She
launched herself at him with speed he didn't expect. However, that
didn't mean he couldn’t handle it. Jon deftly sidestepped her
advance and gave her a swift kick in the side.
A loud *oomph* escaped her lungs as her momentum caused her
to miss him altogether. But she quickly compensated and turned to
face him again. Jon's hands were already up in a defensive fighting
posture. She came at him, this time aiming for his stomach. Jon
blocked, grabbed her arm, spun her around, and effectively pinned
her to the ground as he straddled her to keep her from rolling or
By this time, she was snarling in rage. "Not possible -- you
couldn't beat me."
"Listen, sister," Jon said, "I don't want to hurt you, but I
can't marry you. So say the whole thing is off and I'll let you go."
"Fine, it is off. Father, DO something."
The older man stood and watched, as if he were viewing an art
exhibit. "Really dear, you are the one that attacked him."
Jon pushed her a little harder into the floor. "You promise
to let me go....?"
"Yes, yes, let me GO!"
Jon released his grip and she stood up and moved away from
him. She rubbed her side where Jon's foot had made contact. "I
wouldn't marry you if you were the last male in the seven galaxies."
"The feeling is mutual, you pit viper." Jon threw out the
insult, hoping she would pick up on its meaning.
"You are the vilest creature I have ever met. You insult my
ancestors. Most men would give up their right arms for me. They
fear me, they love me."
"Uh, huh. I hope these men know what a bad fighter you are."
Jon smiled and stood his ground, even though the woman/girl looked
as if she might attack again.
"Yes," the woman/girl's father said, "You will do quite nicely."
TO BE CONTINUED
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