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About the Author

Paul A. Martens is the author of numerous SF short stories including "Miles Away" (Deep Outside SFFH, Fall 2001).

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Outside In: Review by A.L. Sirois

Miles Away

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It took such effort for him to be human. So many things, large and small, that Miles Parker had to remember. Things that came to others without thinking. Nothing came naturally to him. He had to follow the instructions, step by step. A to B. B to C. C to D.

He sat in a room, his body quivering with the struggle to stay in control, avoid mistakes. He had to breathe. People noticed if you didn't breathe. In and out. Not too fast, not to slow. All the way in, not just the nose, but all the way down into the lungs. Human things assaulted his senses. There were machines humming and throbbing and grinding. Smells of foods and cleansers and people. Ova, eggs, gleamed viscously yellow and white on the table before him.

He realized that the woman across from him was talking.

"Miles? Aren't you going to eat your breakfast? You're going to be late for work, honey."

* * *

He examined her words, sought their meaning, broke them down and put them together again. He hated words. They were one dimensional sketches of thoughts that reached in all directions in his head. Thoughts existed all at once; subtly shaded, distinct, with taste and smell and texture, they couldn't be squeezed out, word by inadequate word, into tenuous strings whose beginnings would be forgotten before their ends were reached. He had to sort through all the possible choices of words, pick out the right ones, put them in the right order. Then he had to make the words into sounds, modulate tones, make the proper inflections. And even then he couldn't be sure he would be understood. It all took time and he saw she was looking at him, waiting for his response. He tried to look back, his mouth opening and closing helplessly. How did she focus both of her eyes at the same spot at the same time for so long? And now they were exuding some liquid. Tears. That what the liquid was called. He couldn't produce it himself. It was exactly the sort of fine motor control he lacked.

He looked around the room, searching for clues that would tell him how to act, what to do. Two more humans entered, smaller ones. Children. They had labels, names, and he was supposed to know them.

"'Morning, Mom," said the older of the two, the female. She looked at him and he wished he could interpret the meaning of that look. "Hi, Daddy."

He still said nothing though he knew he was required to speak. He longed to be finished with his assignment and off the planet. He was getting desperate.

The male child was also silent but he could feel the child's eyes on him with a physical force.

The three of them were pressuring him. He wished he knew how to cry, how to scream, how to leave the body in which he was trapped. "Some day they'll come," he blurted. "Someday they'll come and take me away."

* * *

Wait. That was wrong. He wasn't supposed to reveal himself. The whole point of assuming the cumbersome human guise was to observe without being observed. Who could predict how they would react to having a superior being in their midst?

The woman was still watching him and crying and now the young ones were crying, too. He tried to catalogue the emotions they exhibited. Fear, confusion, concern, pain and... what was that one? Love? There were so many emotions, and he wasn't all that certain of the meaning behind each word anyway.

Finally he could stand it no longer and got up and walked from the house.

Locomotion was complicated. The movements of his head, arms, legs and body had to be coordinated. He had to balance. It was practically impossible, yet, if you did it wrong, they stared at you. He was supposed to fit in, pass himself off as one of them, but how could he with all of them staring at him all the time?

He went to the car and got in. It was a crude machine, but, by virtue of its crudity, required him to coordinate many of his human muscles and senses. See the road. See the gauges. Apply the correct pressure to fuel supply or braking device. Navigate while avoiding obstacles. React to the actions of other vehicles. Easier than walking, but exhausting nonetheless.

Reaching his destination, he sat in the vehicle and tried to recover from the pressures of the day so far. Such a small part of the day. He braced himself for the pressures still to come, knowing it was futile. He scanned the sky, wishing without hope that today would be the day they would come and take him away.

He walked slowly into the building (lift foot, balance, swing arms, put foot down, repeat with other foot) where he had his "job."

* * *

"Good morning, Mr. Parker." "Good morning, Mr. Parker." "Good morning, Mr. Parker." Each person he passed recited the same cant phrase. Outside, he was like all of them. Physically, he passed for one of them. Inside, he boiled with knowledge of his strangeness. "I'm not one of you!" he wanted to shout. "I'm not like you at all!"

But this place was a refuge of sorts, here his life was simplified by routine. The necessity of thinking about who he was, what he was doing, was reduced.

(continued)

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