On those rare occasions, when Lucas is not wrenched from sleep by a braying alarm clock, waking up was a drawn out affair. It starts with the dimmest glimmer of consciousness, consciousness he fights off as long as possible, often times tumbling back to that state somewhere between sleep and wakefulness. Then, reluctantly, he allows the dim embers of wakefulness to grow, but said growth was slow. On these unique mornings, it could take several minutes to regain such basic skills as speech. If, during this awakening, a parent, sibling, or anyone for that matter, directs a cross word towards him, his development will halt, leaving him in a state of near wakeful irritation that is difficult to shake, and at best, making him unpleasant to be around.
Then there is the extremely rare occasion when wakefulness comes upon him as quickly as the opening note to Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir. The wheels in his head turning before his eyes even open. This was one of those occasions.
Without transition, Lucas’s mind was fully awake, an endless stream of possibilities whirling through his thoughts. At first, he was not sure why he lost consciousness as the light burned away the mist. But his now active mind quickly rummaged through a half a dozen possibilities before settling on one. Some advanced technology harmlessly knocked him out before snatching him from his mundane life.
Shortly after his mind reached full wakefulness, his eyes sprang open in anticipation of seeing what the inside of an alien spacecraft looked like. Confusion, followed by disappointment scattered his thoughts as the bits and pieces of his surroundings clicked together in recognition, and registered in his mind.
Lucas did not recognize the room itself, but what his surroundings represented. He was in a hospital room, not unlike the one he spent a week in when he came down with phenomena last spring. He did not feel as though he belonged in a hospital. Nothing hurt, and aside from the shock of his surroundings, his insides felt fine. A cursory scan of his hands and arms revealed no wounds.
“Why am I in the hospital?” He asked aloud as the initial shock wore off.
“You were struck by lightning,” a voice from over his shoulder said.
Lighting, he thought, that was no lighting.
Lucas twisted in his bed in search of the voices owner, but the candy striper was already walking away from him, towards a door that lead out the room. Only her red and white striped uniform offered him a clue to her identity.
With deft quickness, her slender fingers snatched at the edge of the door as she passed it, coaxing it to follow her closed as she crosses the threshold. Lucas watched with wonderment as the door silently settled into its jam. He then looked out the window opposite the door, and noticed that the view was a perfect blue sky with the occasional cotton ball cloud floating lazily by.
“It wasn’t lightning,” he repeated glumly.
This isn’t real, he thought to himself. Then it dawned on him…of course, the candy striper with no face, perfect clouds in a featureless sky, a nondescript hospital room.
I am dreaming!
Though he recognized he was in a dream, pulling himself from it was like swimming upwards through molasses. Slowly he struggled from his unnatural slumber, feeling his progress in stages, at times, it felt as though he was loosing ground and slipping back into dreamland. After what seemed like an eternity, an emotionally exhausted, and mentally drained Lucas felt wakefulness unfold and along with it, the sensation of the alien environment surrounding him.
Deeply he breathed in through his nose. The air feeling crisp as it entered his lungs; cool, cleaner than anything he experienced before. Absolutely no aromas tickled his olfactory. The air seemed to offer the perfect combination of temperature and humidity, caressing his skin, whether bare or clothed with perfect comfort. Only the sound of his breathing came to his hears. As a test, he stalled his lungs, holding his breath with his mouth open. Now that the sound of his respiration was silenced, he heard only blood pulsing through his ears. In his mind, he pictured massive fusion engines generating low-frequency hull vibrations, but in reality, he felt and heard nothing.
For the first time in his life, he heard silence.
Desperately he wanted to look about, but apprehension held his eyes closed, the fear of opening them to another disappointment. Instead, he took a moment to feel out his other senses. The material that supported his shoulders, butt, and calves was firm but pliable. He focused on the fabric covering the bed, splaying his fingers as he rubbed his hands over the material. It was soft, and did not appear to absorb his body heat, always reflecting back a comfortable warmth. Lucas was sure these sheets would never see sweat stains.
Slowly Lucas opened his eyes and gasped in delight at what filled his vision. A dim warm light afforded him sufficient illumination to take in his surroundings. Slowly his eyes followed along the ceiling to the walls, noticing the transition from one to the other was seamless. He sought out the source of light, but is unable to discern one. Looking for a change of perspective, he first rose to an elbow, noticing that the light brightened a bit. Lucas then rose a fully seated position. With that movement, the room became full bright. Yet, even with the brighter intensity the light was still a warm pleasing hue. It seemed as though the ceiling glowed with it, reflecting it back into the room. Much like how the earth absorbed the sun’s energy before radiating it back as heat.
Aside from the mysterious source of light, and the way the walls rolled into the ceiling, Lucas found nothing extraordinary about the room. The bed he sat on looked like any twin bed in any kid’s bedroom throughout America.
“Well, except that it is made,” he said wryly.
To his right was a simple desk that looked like plastic with a faux wood grain finish. A dresser that stood across the room afforded the same appearance. To the left of the five-drawer dresser stood a door Lucas assumed lead out of the room. The door, like the light source, offered a hint to the alien environment that surrounded him. He did not discern any hinges, or a doorknob. To the right of the door he noticed a simple flat panel with no markings. The panel was about shoulder level. After further study Lucas decided the door slid into the wall like the hatches in Star Trek.
“Ssscchhekt.” he said aloud in an effort to emulate the sound of a hatch opening in the television series.
He turned his head and looked to his left. Right next to the bed was a nightstand with a lamp on it. Carefully he looked for but found no switch. Curiously he reached out and touched it, and the light shade part of the lamp glowed softly. Leaning over and peering inside gave him no clues as to the source of the light. Where he expected to see a glowing GE light bulb, there is just the stainless steel shaft that supported the lampshade.
On the other side of the nightstand is a smaller version of the door across the room. A couple of symbols glowed softly on the panel to the right of the door. Lucas hoped that the door lead to a bathroom, and slid from the bed. As he approached the door, he admitted to himself that he was mostly unimpressed with his surroundings. Even that silly rinky-dink TV series Star Trek offered more tech than this place. Hell, aside from the doors, this place could be his paneled basement bedroom.
“Well the lights are pretty cool,” he admitted aloud while scanning the glowing ceiling.
A quick study of the panel made it clear how it functioned. The only symbol glowing was a green representation of the door itself. In an animated fashion, it showed the door sliding open. Lucas poked the symbol with his finger and watched as the door slid silently into its frame. He waited a moment, and watched the open door symbol fade and a red representation of the door replace it, this one sliding closed.
On the other side of the threshold was a small utilitarian bathroom. It offered a toilet alongside the right wall, a sink directly to its left, while a shower took up the left wall. The toilet and sink looked like stainless steel while the shower seemed to be composed of a white glass substance. Lucas stepped into the bathroom to study the shower more closely. From the top down to the drain, the walls, corners, and floor were all seamless. Instead of knobs for the shower, there is a glass panel much like the one next to each of the doors. There was no curtain, and he saw no sign of a door.
“Going to be some floor mopping after each shower by the looks of it.”
Lucas turns back to the toilet. Right off, he noticed there was no flush handle. He closed the short distance and stood before it. The seat was down and when he reached for it, it rose on its own. However, the ring was still there and he hated peeing while seated. Again he reached down to lift the lid, and once again it rose before he touched it.
Lucas unzipped, and let the stream start before directing it to the sides of the bowl. A habit from late night trips when the silence of the house made his stream splashing into the bowl sound like Niagara Falls thundering into the river below. He shook and zipped, then took a moment to figure out how to flush the toilet.
“Hmmm,” he said.
Giving up, he tried lowering the seat, but it would not budge. Finally, in frustration he turned to the door. Out of his periphery, he saw something. Looking back, he watched both the seat and the lid lowering while the toilet flushed itself.
He turned to the door again, but the touch pad did not offer an open symbol. Just an orange symbol that clearly told him he is facing a locked door. Twice he poked the lock symbol in an attempt to open the door. It just beeped at him in a harsh tone.
After the second poke, another icon appeared, this one a yellow icon showing two hands rubbing together under running water.
“Great, my fricken mother must be running this place.”
Lucas turned back to the sink. Like everything else, the sink was bereft of knobs. Getting the hang of how things work, he touched the faucet, but nothing happened. After giving it a moments thought, he placed his hands under the faucet and a stream of warm water splashed into his cupped hands. Soap dispensed from the faucet in a single shot, and Lucas works it into a lather. While rinsing he looked around for paper towels or one of those push button hand dryers that never work, but saw nothing to dry his hands with. Just as he was about to give up and dry his hands on his jeans, the water stopped and a jet of warm air replaced the stream of water.
“Now that is cool,” he exclaimed as he rubbed his hands together to speed up the drying process.
This time, when he turned around, he saw the green door symbol. He poked it, and the door slid open to reveal a very attractive woman to his left sitting in the room’s sole chair.
“Hello Mr. Vanice.” She said as he stood in the bathroom door studying her.
His initial assessment came to the conclusion that she was human. Why would she be anything else? Until now, he never encountered another sapient species. Yet something about her captivated him. Initially he assumed it is her beauty. However, there is something more. Her beauty was exotic. Not pacific island exotic, but something more…alien, he decided.
She watched him with almond-shaped eyes that were much larger than anything he saw before now. Raven black hair framed her slender face and flowed beyond her shoulders with a radiance all its own. The hair seemed alive, moving in the gentle currents that he did not feel. Her features offered no discernible cheekbones, and he wondered if her ears were elfin shaped. Her nose was a sharp thin line ending just above thin lips that framed a small mouth. She blinked, and Lucas thought he saw something other than a flash of eyelids.
His eyes drifted down looking for other distinguishing features. Her waist was thin; hips narrow, and breasts small. Long legs extended from a short skirt. She sat with her legs crossed and her hands folded in her lap. There was a distinct shortage of fingers in those clasped hands. Instead of his four, he saw three long fingers. Her opposing thumbs were a direct contrast to the rest of her physique. These were short and thick.
Lucas decides her alien features fit together in a very exotic and beautiful package.
“You’re not human.” He said once he finished sizing her up.
“Good catch,” she replied, “most humans are not so observant. What gave it away, the hands?”
“No, those were the last thing I noticed.”
“Hmmm,” she purred as she rose gracefully from the chair and approached Lucas who is still standing in the bathroom door. She extended her right hand to him as she approached.
Lucas responded with his own, wondering if her touch was going to be cold, slimy, possibly scaly. Instead, her skin is luxuriously soft and her grip firm. First, he felt, then saw that her long fingers afforded two more joints than his own allowing her fingers to wrap almost completely around his hand. Based on the warmth of her grip, he judged her body temperature to be much higher than his own.
“You can call me Portia.” She said upon grasping his hand.
“I am Lucas.”
“I am aware of who you are.”
Lucas grinned sheepishly before replying, “Portia…is that your real name?”
“There is no English translation for my given name. My superiors asked me to choose a terrestrial name when I was offered the role of Human Assimilation Mentor.”
“HAM?” Lucas said chuckling.
Portia looked at him for a moment with an expression Lucas took as confusion.
“Oh, you are creating an acronym from the first letters of my title, a very human trait.”
“Portia, my own personal HAM.”
“I do not see the humor in that,” Portia said in response to Lucas’s chuckling.
“Is life away from Earth without fun?”
“No, my species enjoys fun. I just do not get your breed of humor to this point.
Let’s move on,” Portia cut Lucas off in an effort to refocus the conversation, “I am sorry I was not here when you awoke. There was an unusual number of hysterics in this group.”
“Candidates who wake up, and become hysterical or violent upon discovering they are in an alien environment.
“I had to assist the other…HAMs,” she pauses offering a crooked smirk, “in getting them under control before they hurt someone, or themselves.” An unmistakably forlorn look fell across her features. “Some will not be able to enter the program.”
Lucas focused intently on Portia, hanging on her every word while thousands of questions flew bout his mind, leaving him unable to decide which one to ask first. She had guided him away from the bathroom door, and they stand in the middle of the room.
“What program?” He finally asked.
“I will get to that. As I said, normally I would have been here when you awoke. However, because of the unusual circumstances, I was unable. I received no alarms; therefore, I was not concerned for your well being.
“However, I am impressed with your ability to problem solve and adapt.”
“I am a Boy Scout,” Lucas offered in an effort at humor.
“I know, but so was one of the hysterics,” Portia shot back dismissively before continuing. “As I was saying, your ability to problem solve, natural curiosity, and stable demeanor will make you a splendid candidate.”
Portia looked at him, as if in anticipation of Lucas finishing his question. Since she did not waver, he gave in.
“An excellent candidate for what?” Then he ads, “Don’t you aliens have any sense of humor?”
“Who is the alien here?” She fired back and offered a lopsided smile. “You Lucas Vanice, will train, and upon successful completion, assuming you pass all tests, will become part of the Galactic Defense force, Terran Division.”