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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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(continued)

"Morning. Morning. Morning," he replied. It was expected. He escaped into the room that was his and closed the door behind him, savoring the fact that he was alone. He was almost amused by the clumsy Earth computer, designed for inefficient human hands and fingers, but at least it was filled with numbers. Once he understood what they represented, it was gloriously numbing to fill the screen with numbers. Entering, adding, subtracting.

12345678.90
23456789.01
34567890.12
45678901.23

He rarely remembered to stop for lunch and left only when it was apparent that everyone else was gone.

The device on his work surface made a noise, startling him out of his numbers-induced trance. The noise was repeated, and again, and again, as he watched the instrument. At last it stopped, and he was able to return to his numbers.

* * *

A few moments later he was interrupted again, this time by a woman in his doorway. She was grayer than the woman at the house, her eyes and mouth had lines around them and seemed less pleasant somehow than the other's.

"Miles, what the Hell are you doing? Why didn't you answer your damn phone?" She barked the words at him. She came all the way into the room and dropped into the chair across from him while taking a white tube out of a pocket of her clothing. She put the tube in her mouth and patted herself as if looking for something, then she took the tube out of her mouth, seemingly surprised to find it there and jammed it back into the place from which it came, shaking her head. Miles watched in silent wonder.

"Look, Miles, we need to talk." She looked away from him, briefly, then back again. "Are you losing you mind or what? I mean, Christ, what the Hell are you doing in here all day? I expect reports from you, I get lists of numbers. I want invoices checked, I get numbers. All I ever get from you are numbers. Lots and lots of meaningless, pointless numbers. If you don't knock it off, I'm going to have to fire your ass." She stood up. "All right? Good. I'm glad we had this talk." She started out the door, then turned around again, some of the hardness gone from her face. "If you're having some kind of problems at home, or a mid-life crisis or something, well..." She shook her head. "Ah, Hell, I don't care if you're having problems, just don't bring them into the office, okay?" She left.

No numbers? What was he supposed to do if not fill his computer with numbers? He stared at the blank screen, afraid do anything, afraid to move. His refuge had been invaded, his one respite from the horrors of being human, snatched away.

He sat immobile for the rest of the day, until he could hear no sounds coming from the rest of the office. When he could finally accept that it was time to leave, there was nowhere to go but "home."

* * *

At home, he sometimes almost wished he was human. There were moments with the woman and the young ones, times when they weren't staring at him suspiciously or fearfully, when they just were, when he wanted to be a part of them, to share the quiet satisfaction of being together, believing themselves insulated by the flimsy walls of the house from all the rest of the universe.

The woman looked at him, smiled a smile with intricacies of meaning he was helpless to fathom, and asked, "How are you feeling, Miles?"

If only he could believe the illusion. If only he could forget that he was simply pretending to be human. Maybe, if he tried, really, really tried, he could fit in. At least here and now. He stretched the corners of his mouth, trying to duplicate the expression of the female. He summoned up the words, and the breath and made his vocal chords vibrate while moving his tongue and his mouth. "I'm fine."

He could tell he'd pleased her, yet that liquid came from her eyes again. He wondered what he'd done wrong. Nothing, he told himself. He'd done everything exactly as a human would have done. Why then was she crying?

"Kids," she said. "Time for bed."

They grumbled but, just when he was sure they were going to rebel, they stopped, turned away from the... television, and put away the waxy sticks they'd been using (crayons!). They came to him, wanting to be touched by him. It was tricky. They had to be held just right, not too tightly. Only touch them in certain places, in certain ways. Awkwardly, he tried patting the small male on the head. He must have done it too hard, the boy winced but stood his ground, didn't duck away. He needed contact with Miles.

Miles didn't want to be needed. Couldn't they understand he would be gone soon?

* * *

The girl put her arms around his neck and put her lips on his cheek. "'Night, Daddy."

It was night. Obviously. He put his hand on her head, not patting, and said, "Yes," not sure if that was what he should have said. The girl looked at him as if she, at least, knew what he was, knew he didn't belong there, then she took her mother's hand as the woman led the young ones to their nests.

When the woman returned, she looked at him as if weighing his ability to absorb what she was about to say. He returned her look, waiting, without any means to prepare himself for what might be coming. Perhaps a human would know what she was going to say, would have some sort of response ready. He had no hope that he would even be able to respond after he'd heard her.

"Miles..." Her voice trailed off. Could she be uncertain of what to say? "Miles... Honey... We have to talk. I know you haven't been... well, yourself lately. I don't understand what's wrong, but I want to. I want to help if I can. If you'll let me. Can't you tell me what's going on?"

What's going on? What's wrong? How could she not know? How could she spend so much time with him, be so close to him and not know? He made himself speak. "They're coming to take me away." Somehow he felt she had a right to know. His mission might be jeopardized, but he felt an obligation to put her mind at ease.

It didn't work. Instead she produced tears again. She seemed to try to speak several times, without success. Finally she stood and said, "Oh, Miles," and ran away.

* * *

He felt bad. Sad? Whatever it was, he didn't like it. It was apparent that he was a failure. He had to get out of this human body and back to where he belonged. But how? His thoughts kept bumping into the inside of his skull, unable to break free, unable to smash through the bones that contained him. There were openings, though. The mouth. He emptied himself of air, hoping he would leave with it. He opened wide, wider, but still he was trapped. Maybe if he yelled, used the voice that was often caught somewhere within him, he would be blown free.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH..." He yelled until he felt his air processors, lungs, were about to turn inside out. He struck his body, his chest, his head, trying to dislodge himself from his human prison. He was still locked up inside the human body. He had to get out. He had to get away. Hr flung himself back against his chair, then forward onto the floor. He thrashed and twisted and rolled, like an animal trying to get out of a trap. He had to...

"Miles?" The woman was back, the young ones with her, hiding behind her legs. Her face was a lighter shade than usual, as if the color had escaped. All three were staring, staring, staring at him.

If he couldn't get out of the body, he had to at least get out of the house. Pausing only to figure out how to get up from the floor, then how to get the body in motion, he bolted into the night.

(continued)

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