"The Way Of Knowing by Stephani Maari Booker"
Aphelion Issue 221, Volume 21
September 2017
 
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The Way Of Knowing

by Stephani Maari Booker



One

"Where am I?" I'm scared. I'm so scared.

"You are here."

"Where's here?"

"Here is where you are."

Well, that line of questioning is pointless.

I am wet. I am reclining in some kind of a pool--of water, I hope. I am warm. The liquid is as comfortable as a bath, and as still. I am naked. The suit I wore, seemingly just a moment before I woke up crying out for my whereabouts, is gone.

And I can't see a thing. But I know I'm not blind. I'm certain I'm not blind. My legs, my ribs and my head are sore. I remember falling down, but I don't remember landing.

I shift my body around and feel the smooth, dull rock that forms the pool. I move my right leg, and I feel something very different from the pool surface, something long, thin, slick--like skin!

I jump away screaming, feeling my way around the edge of the pool. I feel the thing touch me again.

"Am I hurting you?"

Ok. Calm down. Calm down. Whoever, or whatever, it is that's talking to me is touching me. All right. Now, answer it. "No, you're not hurting me. I'm just scared. I can't see anything. Please tell me how I got here."

"I found you and brought you here." The voice seemed feminine, whispery sweet.

A voice I heard in my head, not through my ears.

"How are you doing that? You're not speaking at all."

"I do not understand. I communicate with you, and you with me."

Well, however she--should I dare label something I don't even know how it looks or sounds with a gender?--is "communicating" with me, it's natural to her to the point where she doesn't know anything else. What's coming out of my mouth is probably meaningless to her; my thoughts seem to be the universal language she's reading. The existence of telepathy has been theorized about forever. It looks like I'm the lucky one who gets to prove it's real. If I ever get out of here.

"I can't see. I'm scared. Please help me."

"Do not be afraid. I am here."

The thing--a limb of some kind?--lies still against my leg.

"Please tell me why I can't see. Am I blind?" I ask.

"I do not understand. What is 'see' and 'blind'?"

Uh-oh. "You don't know what seeing is?"

"No."

Oh, boy. Let's go further on this line of questioning. "Do you know what hearing is?"

"Yes, but it's not important."

It's not important? Now I don't understand. Let's keep going. "Do you know what smell is?"

"Yes."

That's good. No strange qualifiers with that answer. "Do you know what taste is?"

"Yes."

O.K. "Do you know what touch is?"

"Yes. It is the way of knowing."

Damn, another strange answer. "Knowing what?"

"Touch is the way to know where we are and who we are."

Let's just leave that alone for now. "So you know about touch, taste, smell, and hearing. But you don't know what seeing is?"

"No."

All right. If what I'm figuring out is correct, then there's good news and bad news. Good news: I'm not blind. Bad news: Whoever--or more appropriately, whatever--is "caring" for me is sightless by nature. Moreover, like an earthworm, it lives its entire life underground. It doesn't know any other environment.

At least now I'm fairly sure of where I am. But now I'm getting more sure that I'll never get out.

So now what do I do? I remember taking a step and falling, but I wouldn't be able to identify where it happened. Even if I asked my "caretaker" to take me where she found me, what if it's as dark as where I am now? Even if it's a place where I can see the light, it's probably a hole of some kind, and I don't have climbing equipment or my tracer. Where is my tracer, and my clothes, anyway?

"What is 'clothes'?"

That figures. "I had covering on my body, and a pouch, a container that carried things."

"Your outer skin was torn and shedding. I removed the shedded skin."

Shedded skin. Like a reptile. "Where did you put it?"

"It is here."

"Could you let me see it, I mean have it?"

"Yes. I must move you from the water, but I don't know how you feel."

"I feel fine. I'm not seriously hurt."

"I don't know how you feel. I don't know if moving you will hurt you."

Hmm, I just told her how I feel. "Don't worry. I'll let you know if you're hurting me."

The limb against my leg moves and slips under my torso. Then another limb slides under my rear and around my hips. And another wraps itself around my knees. O.K., she's got four arms--at least.

I am lifted from the water with as much effort as it would take me to pick up a cat. I am carried by someone that is very big and very strong, but the strength holds me up; it's directed for me, not inflicted upon me. I am being moved, but I don't hear footsteps, only a sliding sound, like a rug being dragged over sand. A lot of arms, no legs. Oh, dear.

Oh, hell. Can she read all my thoughts? I'd better ask her before I think of anything potentially offensive, as I already may have. "Do you know everything I'm thinking?"

"I do not understand." I am slowly being lowered and placed on something soft. It's a pile of something cottony, or feathery, or something in between. Anyway, it's plush and cushy. I gather up some of the material and pile it on myself as covering. Even though my caretaker can't see me, and I can't even see myself, I feel exposed and immodest lying naked with a stranger.

"Do you know everything I know?"

"No, and I do not understand it. We all know each other."

"Who's 'we'?"

"We are the ones who live here."

"Others like you?"

"Yes. We all know each other. I only know what you communicate to me. I don't know you. You are not like us."

Well, that's obvious, even if you can't see. "Where are the others? Are they in here with us?" The thought of being in a dark room with all kinds of "others" is not pleasant.

"No. We each have our own spaces. This is my space."

"Do the others come around a lot?"

"We come out of our spaces to find food and to know each other after three mealtimes have passed."

"Will anyone come soon?"

"After two more mealtimes, yes. One will come and we will know each other and separate. Then I will sleep."

Great, they live by their internal cycles: hunger, sleep... sex? Let's not go there. "Will I have anything to fear when the other comes? I'm away from others like me, and I'm scared."

"They will know what I know. Do not be afraid." A limb strokes my arm. Since I awoke, she has not stopped touching me. Strangely enough, I think the darkness would be harder to bear without feeling the physical presence of this being.

I feel something moist barely brush against my leg. "Eat." I reach down with my hands and hold the food and the limb that offers it. I open my mouth and take a bite; it has the taste and texture of mashed potatoes without salt or butter. I'm glad that I can't see what this food really is. I hear a quiet slurping sound from her, but no chewing.

After I finish eating, I communicate to her "May I have my old skin now?"

"Yes." A pause, then I feel the suit and the pouch nestled against my belly. I quickly grab the pouch and fumble it open. Tracer--not working. Communicator--out of range, receiving static. Lights and torches--wet. Me--out of luck.

All right, let's not panic. I'm alive, uninjured and apparently safe with an intelligent indigenous life form that is willing to shelter me and help me. I'm just going to have to "communicate" with my host. She seems willing to share information about herself and her kind, and I'll need as much about that as I can get both to continue surviving here and to find my way to the surface of this planet. This is going to require a lot of patience, because the huge gap between us in terms of experience--a cultural gap, you could call it--I'll have to spend a lot of time explaining and defining things for her. I need to be grateful for this telepathy thing; I never was good at learning languages.

So where to start? Ok, let's try this: "Do you have a name?"

"What is 'name'?"

"A name is something that identifies you."

"What is 'identify'?"

"It means to know what something or who someone is."

"You do not know what you are?"

Oops. "I know what I am." I pause and take a breath. "Beings like me use sounds that come from our mouths--our bodies--to communicate to each other."

"Are those the strange sounds you make when you communicate to me?"

"Yes." I'm glad she's understanding something. "Those sounds are called 'words.' There are some words that people use as their own special word that tells who they are. We know each other by these special words, called names, and by sight, the thing that you don't know about."

"You do not touch?"

"Yes, we touch. Why?"

"Then why do you need these other things to know who and what you are?"

"My kind don't know each other by touch."

"I do not understand. Among us, touch is the way of knowing. When we come together and touch, each one of us knows what all the others know. It is different with you because when I touch you, I only know what you communicate to me."

"Oh, so that's why you're touching me! If you don't touch me, you can't communicate with me."

"Yes."

"With the rest, you touch them and you know everything about them."

"Yes."

Now I get it. "Among my kind, touch isn't that important. We don't communicate with each other through it."

"But how do you know each other?"

Whoa. That question requires some thought. "You know what? We don't. We use sounds to communicate with each other, and sight to tell each other apart. But we don't know each other completely."

# # #

"May I try to know you? May I feel you so I can understand what you are?"

"Yes."

Slowly, I sit up on my knees and reach for the ground to feel where her body begins. Smoothness. Coolness. A thick cylinder of strange flesh. I try to wrap my arms around the body, but they don't even make it halfway around the circumference. I pull back, place my hands flat against this pillar, and move down. My left hand feels a curve at the rear of the body. I move my right hand around to this bend and then keep moving. The tower is becoming a curving pipeline, winding along the dirt. It ends with a rounded point, at least two of my arm spans away from the curve. A tail.

I follow my hands back up and over the curve to the vertical torso. I move up, standing slowly and reaching until my arms are stretched over my head. I still feel nothing but a powerful column.

"Help me up." Two limbs around my bottom, two more around my back. I am slowly elevated along the body's continuing solid line. So tall, so very tall.

My hands reach a break in the solid body. My head gently bumps against a barrier. I move my hands over the break, and it naturally leads above my head. Limbs, many, many limbs, growing out of the top of the torso like vines.

"Raise me above you." The four limbs tighten for security, then I feel the rise. I reach out and feel the limbs, stretching, winding, moving everywhere. "Where are the ends of your limbs, I mean, the parts of you that you use to feel?" She moves me up and out. I follow a group of limbs with my hands, then I feel a wall of dirt. The ends of these limbs are moving against this wall. I am moved along this wall, and around what I am able to tell is a den, with one entrance. The limbs have contact all over the den; a group wraps themselves around the entrance. This is how she knows where she is. The star-nosed mole uses its feeler-covered nose to create a three-dimensional mental picture of its surroundings by rapidly contacting one surface at a time; this being uses her seemingly countless limbs to maintain contact with everything in her reach so she knows her environment completely. She is not feeling her way through darkness, as I am. She knows her place in this world.

After I tell her to put me back down, I get down on my hands and knees and crawl around on the ground, starting from the wall of the den and moving in a spiral to the center, trying my best to picture in my mind and remember the stationary parts of the chamber--the cushy nest, the entrance, the sunken pool of water. The pool is shallow: At its deepest level, the water covers my hips. I estimate the pool is about ten feet around.

"Why did you put me in this water?"

"The water can heal hurts. You were hurt so I put you in the water for you to heal."

Hmm, healing water. Well, the heat can certainly ease body aches. "So you get into this water to heal yourself when you're hurt. Do you wash or clean your body with this water?"

"What is 'wash' and 'clean'?"

Oh yeah, wrong words to use with somebody who lives underground. "Do you use the water when you aren't hurt?"

"Yes, the water feels good."

You're right about that. "Do you drink this water?"

"Yes."

Good, because I'm thirsty. I cup my hands together, dip them in the pool and take a sip. The water has a distinct, but tolerable, mineral taste. Hopefully, there's nothing in it that could make me sick.

I hear a soft splash and then a slurping sound. "Are you drinking the water?"

"Yes."

"What do you use to drink with?"

A limb brushes my leg. I reach for it and pick it up out of the water. Running my fingers along the limb, I note that it doesn't feel any different from any of the others; then I get to the end, where instead of terminating as a finger-thin tip, the end has a fist-sized blunt bulge. Gently, I trace one finger over the bulge until it centers on a closed circular orifice.

The limb shivers a little in my hand. "Oh, did that feel bad?" I let go of the limb.

"No. I feel touch strongly there."

"Oh, you mean it's more sensitive--that's what my kind says when a part of the body has a stronger sense of touch. Do you eat with this part of you?"

"Yes."

"The part of me that I eat and drink with is sensitive, too. I'm sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable--I mean, made you feel something you didn't want to feel."

"What is 'sorry'?"

"That's something you say--a sound you make--to let somebody know that you feel bad for doing something bad or wrong."

"Your touch did not feel bad or wrong."

"Good, because I was scared that when you shook, that meant I touched you in a way that felt bad or made you hurt."

"You did not hurt me."

Whew, I was scared that could have been a disaster. Let me do something to avoid any more. I'll start with myself: "I'll help you to know my body so you don't have to be afraid that you're hurting me or making me feel bad with your touch."

"Mealtime is near. You may let me know your body after we eat."

# # #

After mealtime, I touched with my hand the thin tip of a limb that lay against my leg. "Place another one of these parts of you next to this part of me." I felt a second limb tip cross the back of my hand.

I took one limb in each hand and held them between my thumbs and forefingers. Running my hands around her limb tips while wiggling my fingers, I said, "These parts of me I use to grab and hold things, a lot like the way you use these parts of you. I know you don't understand names, but I'm going to tell you anyway that my small grabbing parts are called hands. Most of the time, when I'm trying to touch something to find out its size or shape or other information, I use my hands."

Bringing the limb tips up to my face slowly, I gently pressed them against my eyelids. Softly, I traced the limbs across my lids under my brows, to the corners of my eyes and then underneath them. "These two openings contain things called eyes," I explained. "You can't touch the eyes themselves because they are very fragile and sensitive. They're like round, solid bodies of water."

"Like ice?"

She knows ice. Good. "Something like that. Except they're not cold. And they're soft. With my eyes, I can tell where I am without touching, hearing or smelling anything. But they only work if there is light."

"What is light?"

I knew I'd have to explain that one. Oh well. It might be easier than describing how eyes work. Let me think--oh, here's a good start: "A lot of things that make heat also make light."

That gives me another thought. The underground tunnels that make my caretaker's world must be on or near geothermally active ground; that's why the temperature here is as warm as a womb. I wonder if I could get her to lead me to a source or outlet for this activity--an open magma chamber or pit, perhaps.

"The space where I found you was hot. It is one of the burning spaces," she responded.

"A 'burning space'?" I asked. Wow, speaking of the devil, pardon the pun. "Describe it to me."

"There are many burning spaces. They are spaces where the heat can kill. We move around those spaces, but we do not go inside. I was moving past a burning space when I smelled you. I reached into the space and pulled you out."

This has to be a place where magma is exposed, but I don't have any burns or other indications of extreme heat exposure on my body (at least I can't feel any), and my torn clothes and equipment didn't smell or feel burned.

"Did you get burned when you pulled me out of the space with the burning place?" I asked.

"No, you were far away enough from the burning place for it not to burn, but it was very hot in the space."

Yes, that's it. "Will you take me back to the space where you found me?"

"Why do you want to go back to that space? You could get burned. You do not know the space, and I do not know it fully because of the hot place inside."

"With my sight, I can know that space enough to avoid the hot place. You just have to take me to the entrance to the space so I can walk inside. You don't have to go inside."

"You can know where the hot place is without getting close to it?"

"I can know exactly where it is without even walking into the space because the hot place probably makes light. With light, my eyes will work, and they might show me the way back to my kind."

She is silent for a moment. I feel her stroking my ankle lightly.

"I will take you to the space, but I do not want to let you go. I am scared you will get too close to the hot place."

"Once I tell you I have sight, you can let me go. I will be able to find my way in the space without you."

"I will not know where you are if I let you go. We will not be able to communicate. I am scared."

I reach for the limb around my ankle, pull it off and take it in both hands. "I will be fine. I know it's strange and scary for you, but I'm different from you."

"I know. I don't want you to be hurt or die."

"If there is light there, I won't be hurt. If there isn't light, I won't go into the space. I will be fine." I grasp her limb firmly, hoping my touch can communicate reassurance. "Could you take me to the burning space after the first mealtime after your next sleeptime?" I ask. I'm safe here, and I want to take the time to both reinforce the rapport we have and to learn more about her and her species. Besides, I don't want to rush her into taking me somewhere that scares her that badly--I wouldn't want to walk anywhere near a fire blind either.

"Yes."

"Good. So let me finish helping you get to know my body."

I keep the touch-and-tell going, from my nose and mouth, down to my chin and then up my jawline to my ears, over to my hair, with which she becomes very fascinated. She runs multiple limb tips along my cornrows and down to the loose ends that hung between my shoulder blades.

"It feels different," she tells me.

I think about taking down the braids so she could feel my true hair texture, but then I suddenly realize that I really needed to go relieve myself. Okay, now how do ask about this? "I need to eliminate the waste from my body from eating and drinking," I said, hoping I wouldn't have to explain any more than that.

"What is 'waste'?" she asks. "What you communicate to me seems like body leavings."

"Body leavings. Is that when you leave behind liquids or solids that come out of your body?" I ask back.

"Yes."

"Then yes, I need to do a body leaving now. I feel very bad." Please, before I burst.

"I will lift you. Let me know if I hurt you." She wrapped her limbs around the same places she did when she picked me up, then she lifted me off the ground, but not very far. I feel us both moving very fast and hear the soft sound of her trunk and tail sliding along dirt. By the time and speed of movement, I knew we had left the chamber where we were; and I was glad since I hoped that she wouldn't force me to go right where she lives.

Finally, she stopped and set me down gently, keeping a limb around my ankle. My feet and ankles sank into what felt like a layer of loose soil, different from the very solid dirt of the chamber. It was very soft and very warm, with texture that was both powdery and flaky, like a mixture of dried earth and peat moss. A very familiar organic odor brushed against my nose: compost.

"Body leavings go here," she tells me.

I squat so my rear barely touches the soil layer and take a big deep exhale of relief when I let go. The sound of my breath echoes. This place must be pretty large. Maybe this is where they all go. I didn't hear any movement, so I hoped that meant we lucked out on having this public lavatory to ourselves.

The soil layer is very absorbent, so I don't feel any leakage on my legs or feet. I figure I'll use the water back in her chamber and some of that fluffy stuff in the nest to clean myself. I stand up. "I'm done."

She picks me up and we go back to the chamber.

# # #

Before I came to consciousness in this underground habitat, I was chasing after something that looked like a terrestrial banana slug in a vegetation-rich valley on the surface of this planet. As a member of the civilian science corps, I am one of many who are part of the long process of documenting this newly charted planet in every way. My job as a zoologist is to find and record as much land-based animal life as possible. Since this planet is just a little smaller than Earth, I expected to be here for at least two Earth years. Being that no signs of any highly evolved, sentient life forms had been found by the initial explorations and scans, I wasn't expecting to have to switch hats to my other profession as a multi-species anthropologist here on this planet. However, now I'm having a first contact with a member of what seems to be an entire underground society.

The Galactic Explorer Fleet has always been able to scan new planets and detect sentient societies before the science corps is brought in for study. Planets with pre-space travel societies--hunter/gatherer or agrarian societies, for instance--are studied on a no-contact basis; first contact with such societies could cause irreparable harm to their development. Imagine cave dwellers on prehistoric Earth being visited by life forms from another solar system. Those ancient humans wouldn't even be able to comprehend what was happening; the strange beings before them might be thought of as gods, or demons. The disruption to their belief systems alone could have led to the destruction of my ancestors.

With that in mind, I have to be careful how much I tell this life form about myself. Besides, our experiences and senses are so disparate that I don't know if it would be possible for me to communicate with her about space travel and other planets anyway. Still, she doesn't seem disturbed at all by the fact that I'm very different from anything she's experienced. She has no problem at all understanding that I'm from "somewhere else" where there are others like me.

Creating communication between sentient species can be a slow process with space travel-level societies. In a way, the touch-based telepathy the life form here has actually makes things easy, both in terms of overall communication and in keeping what I tell her on a basic level.

Basic like my asking her at third mealtime, "What is this food?"

"It grows in many large, open spaces here," she tells me. "It is the food we eat most. We also eat other foods when we can find them. Some of these foods grow and stay in one place; others move and we have to catch them."

Plant life, probably like fungi, and animal life. "When do you go and get food?"

"After four sleep times, we all go to the spaces that have the food to get it and bring it back to our spaces. We seek out other foods often. It makes us feel joy to find new foods."

"Is that what you were doing when you found me?" I asked.

"Yes."

The scientist in me is so intrigued by this being and her species' way of life. What a find this would be to report once I get back with the rest of the corps. I know I should add an "if" to that thought, but I can't worry because it'll make my situation worse. I believe that tomorrow, or when I wake up from sleep time, I will be going to where I will be found, or where I can find my way to the corps. I know the routine time for a missing corps member search is seven Earth days, extended only if any trace of the missing person (their clothing or DNA, for example) is found. Hopefully, I'll be able to find a way to the planet's surface from the place where my native-species host found me; this planet's day is only about four hours shorter than an Earth day, so on the surface I could tell the passage of time, versus in this underground world where I don't know how much time passes between one sleep time and another.

In the meantime, being an alien anthropologist, living with and learning from a sentience and its culture, is better than being an alien lost in a world of darkness. It's hard to be so helpless and dependent, yet my host's hospitality and willingness to help me make it easier to keep my thoughts away from worry and fear.

We finish eating, and then she tells me, "Another is here."

"Another one like you?" I ask.

"Yes. I am moving out of the space to know the other. Do not be afraid. I will not let you go," she responded. I heard the big sliding of her body moving away from me, but I still felt a limb wrapped loosely around my ankle. I stood up and carefully stepped toward the nearest wall. The limb stayed around my ankle. This should make me feel like I'm shackled, but I don't feel secured and tied down--I feel secure, period. I feel safe.

I spend the time my host is out of the chamber reinforcing my mental picture of the place: walking around it with one hand on the wall, measuring my steps between nest and the pool, working hard to make myself less helpless.

"The other wants to touch you," I suddenly hear her interrupt my thoughts. I stop moving, confused by the statement--the request.

I only can think of one response: "Why?"

"The other knows all that I know about you. You do not need to be afraid. The other wants to know you with touch. If you do not want the other to know you, I will tell the other."

I'm scared and nervous; do I want another being touching me the way my host has? I've built a rapport, developed a sense of trust with my host, but not with this "other." The human answer to this request would be, "I don't know this person; I don't want them touching me!"

But I say, "Can the other touch me with just one limb? I don't want to be touched with more than that."

"Yes."

"Good," I respond. "Please tell me when the other is about to touch me and where on my body."

"The other is reaching in the space to touch you where I am touching you," she tells me, and soon I feel a second limb slowly encircling my ankle. "Use your hands to lift the other and move the other so the other can know your shape and size."

I reach down and pick up the limb, dragging its tip up my leg, along my left side to my shoulder. Then, I move the limb along my arm to my hand, tracing my fingers. I place the limb in my left hand and trace it along my the fingers of my right hand, move it up my right arm to my shoulder, and then up the side of my neck and around the top of my head, making sure to trace along the shells of my ears along the way.

"Does the other want to know anything else?" I ask, holding the limb in my hands.

"The eyes," she says.

I move the tip around first my open and then closed eyes. When I removed the limb from my face, the limb slips away from my hand. After a moment, I hear a dragging sound.

"Is that you?" I say, scared that the other is coming into the space.

"Yes," I hear her say.

"Is the other here?" I ask.

"No."

"I would have been afraid if the other came into this space and you didn't let me know it," I tell her

"The size of this space is only for one of us and one or two young."

Young. So they have babies. "So the other couldn't fit in this space with you?"

"No."

So that's why she left the chamber to "know" the other one.

"It is sleeptime now," she says, and I hear her move. I step carefully toward the nest, and when I feel the soft clumps on my feet I wait until I hear her stop moving before I sit down and settle into the plushness. I'll have to ask her what this stuff is in the morn-- I mean, when we wake up.

Two

My dream was so strange. Melia, my ex-fiancée, was in it, and it seems like we were back on Earth at the Michigan Lower Peninsula Preserve, where I lived and worked before joining the science corps. In the dream, she seemed so happy, and that was strange because Melia hated the MLPP, and she didn't understand why I loved it so much.

Very few people live outside of the cities, since the rest of the planet has been given over to the preserves, and most people don't have much contact with other species outside of houseplants and house pets. I was born in the East Great Lakes Meglopolis, so the environment I grew up in was the same as hers essentially, even though she was born and raised in the West Great Lakes Meglopolis. We lived in worlds of antiseptic glass, steel and concrete, yet I longed for a connection to the Earth of dirt, trees, and nonhuman species, from insects to elephants. So I spent my life preparing myself to be one of the few who got to live outside the cities--to be a scientist and naturist dedicated to a life of service to the world's preserves.

I met Melia in college, in one of my lower division general science classes. From day one she showered me with attention and admiration, countering the loneliness and sense of alienation that I had since I was a child. Our relationship progressed quickly from studying together, to lunches and dinners, to moving in together. As I progressed to earning a degree in zoology, she pursued an education track toward becoming a psychologist. For five years, we supported each other through the rigors and demands of education; it was a shared mission that bonded us.

When it was time for us to step out of the university and into the field, the mission was over, and it became apparent that we were on separate paths. I took her with me to the MLLP, and she hated every minute of it: too dirty, too wild, too many "bugs," as she called everything smaller than a squirrel. More than that, she recognized for the first time--after all those years we were together--that my devotion to other species and natural environments was more than just a career path: It's a passion that makes my heart beat. I thought I made that clear to her from the beginning, but maybe I didn't. Maybe I didn't communicate that to her. Maybe I did, but she didn't listen. After five years and an engagement, you think you'd know somebody.

That was more than 10 years ago. I've mourned the loss of that relationship and moved on a long time ago, living my passion: No longer limited by the city restrictions of no more than one dog and one cat, no more seeing plant life only confined in pots and greenhouses, I gave my heart and mind to the wild Earth. From the black widow spiders, to the Komodo dragons, to the African lion prides, to the redwoods of the Pacific Northwest Preserve, to the orchids of the Amazon Basin Preserve--I loved the living with unconditional ardor.

I especially loved my time in the preserves that held the last human populations who were living indigenously: Bushmen, Amazon natives, Far North Preserve's Inuits. My time with these people led me to seek out more formal basic education on cultural anthropology, which included studies on the known intelligent populations on other planets. The connection was made in my mind: Learning about and experiencing life at all levels, from the minuscule to the gigantic, from the purely instinctual to the highly intelligent.

Since joining the civilian science corps, I've traveled to seven other worlds. On four of them, I've done anthropological studies of intelligent species. On those planets and the rest, I've observed, recorded and reported on uncountable numbers of fauna species. I have been the first human to find and record quite a few of these species. The civilian science corps tries not to rank anybody, but I know I'm acknowledged as one of the best at this kind of work.

I've found fulfillment in my work without needing much more from humans than the cordial chumminess of my fellow corps colleagues. I wonder why now, after all this time, in the current state I'm in, would I be dreaming about Melia.

It's so strange to see daylight in your dreams, and then open your eyes to darkness. It startled me a little when I woke, and I must have shook or twitched because I felt my caretaker move against my leg.

"You are awake," she communicated to me.

"Yes," I said to her.

"The first mealtime has passed, but I was afraid to awaken you."

"You can wake me up when it's time to eat," I told her. "I want to live like you do while I'm here." This is her environment, her home. I'm the guest here, the outsider. You earn respect and trust from those who are different from you if you live their lives with them--that's basic anthropology.

"Do you still want to eat?" she asked.

"Would it be wrong or bad if I ate now?" I asked back.

"No."

"Then yes, please. I am hungry."

"What is 'please'?"

Oops. " 'Please' is something you say when you ask somebody to do something that they don't usually do," I explained. "I'm asking you to give me food even though it's past the first mealtime."

"Why do you need this 'please' to ask for a thing you want?" she asked.

"It's just something my kind do to let the one whom they're asking know that they really need or desire what they're asking for." That's really not adequate, but I'd have to use more words she wouldn't understand, like "appreciate," to give a good definition of "please."

"I do not understand why your kind need 'please.' Asking is not enough for your kind to know you need or want a thing," she tells me as she lays the food on my stomach.

Yeah, it sounds stupid to me too, once I think about it. "It's hard for me to explain why my kind need to make that sound, but it has to do with how we don't know what others are thinking or feeling. We add extra communication sounds--what we call 'words'--to try to help with that." I bit into the food.

"I understand," she responds, and then asks, "Do you want to go to the burning place after you eat?"

"Yes," I reply, but then I think a moment before adding, "but I'll need to go to the body leavings place first. When we leave here, could you let me walk--I mean, move there with you without your carrying me? I'll still need you to help me, but I want to try to know the places here outside of your space."

"Yes," she tells me.

"You will need to move slowly because my two lower limbs will be moving me while my hands on my upper limbs will be reaching and touching as we move. Because my touch isn't as good at letting me know where I am as yours is, I'll need you to communicate with me about where we are as we go, so I don't fall into a hole or get hurt."

"I understand," she responds.

I finish the food and then reach and grab my torn suit, my communicator and my tracer, which I've kept with me in the nest. Finding a leg of my pants, I stuff the tracer and the communicator into it, centering the two in the middle of the leg. Then I tie knots at the end of the pant leg and the top near the crotch. Standing up, I wrap the pants around my waist and tie them securely; I want to make sure I don't lose the two things that could get me found by the corps.

I go get a drink from the pool and then walk over to her and place my hand on her torso, needing to feel supported even though a limb of hers was around my ankle. "We can go now," I say.

On our journey to the burning space, my limited senses and my host's communications give me an impression of a domain of long, hallway-like passages that connect spaces that range from chambers the size of my host's home to cathedral-esque caverns that carried my voice like a concert hall. My hands brushed against powdery dirt and sharp stone; my feet treaded on hardness, sank into softness.

My host warned me of little creatures that scattered quickly over my feet; she explained the shrieks of animals that moved through the air: "They use sounds as a way of knowing where they are, as you do."

"They're probably better at it than I am," I told her. "I'm only using sound because I don't have sight."

We move on to another cavern of stone, where she stops and tells me "I have found a thing I want you to touch." I wait for a moment, and then I feel her limb against my hand. The tip is curled up. I grab it with both hands, and she releases something in them.

It is round. Perfectly round. A smooth, solid sphere with the mass of a heavy stone that fits in one palm. Its powdery, yet slick surface makes it pleasant to roll around in my hands; it's like a solid ball of talc but with a silky feel.

"Smell it," she tells me. I bring it to my face, and its scent tingles my nose like a mint: a stimulating rush to my head that takes me by surprise. "It's wonderful!" I exclaim, forgetting myself.

"What is 'wonderful'?"

"It smells good," I say, hating that I couldn't express to her how good.

"Taste it," she tells me.

A round rock that feels nice and smells great, and it has a taste, too? I stick out my tongue and guide its tip to the object. A minty-peppery sensation excites my tongue. I give the object a wholehearted lick, and the flavor hits all the taste regions of my tongue hard--sweet, sour, salty--while the hot-cool sensation fills my mouth.

This time, I had no words. After recovering from the shock of pleasure, I communicated to my host, "This is good, good, good!"

"Do you feel joy?" she asked.

I paused at the question, and then communicated, "Yes."

"I cannot know what you feel, but what you communicated to me, I thought of joy."

Though the sentence I heard in my head was fragmented, I understood what she meant. I was able to tell her how much I enjoyed the object--by keeping my thinking simple and my mouth closed.

"What you tasted, smelled and touched is hard to find. It makes us feel joy when we find it and know it. I feel joy because you feel joy with it."

I am beside myself with gratitude and happiness for the connection we made over this special object. "Thank you," I let slip from my lips.

"What is 'thank you'?"

I shut my mouth and think to her, "I feel joy from this thing, and I feel joy from you because you let me know it, and you know how I feel." I reach down to my ankle and pull off her limb; then I place the object on the tip of her limb. "I give this back to you," I think to her.

"No, it is yours," she tells me. "I gave it to you. You do not want it?"

"Yes! I want it," I tell her.

"It is yours."

I close my fingers around the object, wishing I had a pocket to put it in; then I realize, I do!--sort of. I feel around on my makeshift belt and find a hole where I stuff the object. She and I move on, leaving the chamber for another passage.

After a short time, I feel the temperature rise to the point where I'm sweating. "Are we close to the burning space?" I ask.

"Yes," she answers. "It is not far."

I don't see anything, but I still hope that the heat is from a light-producing source.

After some more time, I see it.

A red-yellow glowing spot, like a candle flame that doesn't flicker.

"I see it! I see it!" I verbally exclaim.

"Your eyes are working?" she asks.

"Yes!" I cry out. I'm close to jumping up and down, I'm so happy. "I'll still need help, but I know where the burning space is now," I tell her. It's still dark except for that little beacon. I pick up the pace a bit, and soon the light grows larger.

As we get closer to the light, I feel more steady inside, less shaky and unsure. My feelings didn't come so much from the hope of rescue the light represented, however--seeing again has transformed me from weakness to strength, from helplessness to surety.

Soon, it's apparent to my eyes that the light is coming from a chamber entrance that lies on the left side of the passage wall. The chamber is lighting up the passage outside of it, showing that the passage continues on ahead of us. Had we not gradually approached the chamber entrance--had I not been able to see it from afar--the light probably would have been too much for my cave-blinded eyes to bear.

Gradually, the chamber entrance brought light to my host and me. Because my eyes were so focused on looking forward, my first sight of my host was of many luminous, colorless tentacles, fluidly moving, constantly searching ahead of us from the ceiling to the floor of the passage. I turn to my left and see my hand on her body as a small, dark silhouette against a moon-glow pillar in the shadows defined by the light.

When we get about 15 meters away from the chamber entrance, I say to her, "Let me move in front of you." She stops moving, and I confidently walk quickly to the entrance, with my host still linked to my ankle.

The chamber is enormous, tall, rugged and soaring like an ancient cathedral on Earth, but with the capacity of an arena. The light source is a magma lake on its floor, about 30 meters around, located roughly in the center of the chamber, a bubbling liquid sun illuminating a cavern of black stone.

I say to my host, "Come to me." The tall, tentacled white column moved next to me, into the light, and for the first time I really look at her. The light gives her form a translucent quality, like a terrestrial jellyfish, and she has that same fluid, flowing quality about her, despite having the height and similar shape to a small tree.

She is beautiful!

I am startled by my own thought--the power of it that makes my breath quicken. I've seen uncountable numbers of different species on seven planets. I'm very relativist by training and experience; I don't judge or evaluate species on an aesthetic level. For me, there is a certain beauty in all unaltered ecosystems and the indigenous life that inhabits them. But that beauty is not dependent on nature being pleasing to my eyes. I've dealt with species that looked like worms, blobs, slime, rodents, giant arthropods--beings that don't look "pretty" by most human standards.

But now, why do I find this being beside me beautiful? What makes me feel this way?

All right, stop this, I've got to get back to the task at hand, figuring out how to get back to the surface. This is where I was found. Now I have to go into this chamber and find out how I got here.

I say to my host, "Can you reach inside the space and touch the place where you found me?"

"Yes," she says, and a limb extends into the chamber. Not surprisingly, considering her fear of the heat, the limb stops and rests its tip at a place not far from the entrance--perhaps about six meters--and against a wall.

"I'm going into the space," I tell her. "I'm going to move to where you found me."

Inside the chamber, I stumble over a lot of rough rock on my way to the spot where her limb ends. The chamber is very hot, but not unsafely hot near the wall. There's a lot of distance between the wall and the magma lake, so that might explain the tolerable temperature.

When I approach the area where the limb ended, I feel a sensation so foreign to the environment I'm in that it makes me jump: a cool breeze. The air is coming from a wide fissure in the wall not far from my host's limb. The fissure is the opening to a crevice that angles upward. Inside, I find pieces of material--pieces of my clothing.

How I wish I had a torch to light up this crevice before I try to climb up.

"There's an opening here. I will show you," I tell my host, and I reach down to pick up her limb. "Feel this air," I tell her as I hold up her limb near the fissure; then I trace the limb around the opening. "This opening goes to where I came from. I found pieces of my clothes--my shedded skin--inside."

"My kind have found beings different from us and the other beings who live here in spaces where the air moves and is cool, but they are never alive," she responds. "I did not understand how a living being could be in a burning space. Now I understand."

The cool-moving-air spaces must be sinkholes, caves and other openings to the surface, like this one. Species from the surface have probably fallen into these places and died for eons. I need to be grateful for my good fortune.

And for my host. It's time for me to start trying to climb up this crevice.

I leave the chamber, carrying my host's limb in my hands. There's also a limb still wrapped around my ankle. I walk up to her and say, "I'm going to go inside the opening. It's too small for you to come with me."

"I have to let you go," she tells me. Then she communicates something that makes me shake inside: "I do not want to let you go."

I don't know how to respond, because I don't know what she means. Does she mean she wants to keep me here against my will? All right, let's not assume what she means. I calm down a bit, and then I simply say, ""Why?"

"Because knowing you makes me feel joy."

For a moment, I cannot think. I can only feel my heart beating so fast and hard that place my palm against my chest as if to keep it from bursting out.

"You can't know me--you can never know me, not like your kind know each other."

"I want to keep knowing you. Everything with you is new."

"I don't understand what you mean," I tell her.

"I know everything of my kind--everything they are and everything they know. Nothing is new. With you, everything you communicate is something I do not know. When you communicate to me, everyone of my kind knows. We all know the newness of you. And we feel joy.

"A new food, a new passageway found, a new scent--with all those things, we feel joy," she continued. "And another life that thinks and feels and communicates everything new always is joy."

"Learning and finding new things makes me feel joy," I tell her. "And communicating with you, trying to know you even though we are different... " I don't have words for what I feel, except words I shouldn't say: I don't want her to let me go either.

Now, get yourself together. You need to go. "Look, I have to go so I can get back with my own kind. I'll be back," I add desperately, though I don't know why I feel that way. I believe--I know--she's not holding me against my will.

She asks me, "Can your eyes keep me from being burned in the burning space?"

I'm surprised by the question. "Yes. You can go inside without being burned with the help of my eyes."

"I want to go into the space with you," she says.

For some reason, I'm pleased by this. "Let me move ahead of you so I can help you."

I go inside the space, still holding a limb in my hand, and look back at her at the entrance. "Move inside, and keep moving until I say stop," I order her. The limbs come first, surrounding the entrance and then moving along the walls behind and the floor below. Then the torso, erect and balanced by the thick tail like a standing serpent.

"Stop," I say. "Move along the wall," I add, pulling on the limb to indicate the direction. "Stop," I say again once she is standing right next to the fissure. "You can reach and feel around as far as your limbs can reach without getting burned here," I assure her.

The limbs flow everywhere, finding the fissure and reaching deep inside it. "I want to touch you when you go inside," she tells me. "I will let you go when I must."

She wants to keep in touch with me all the way to the last minute. I'm so moved by this, I choke back a sob. Why am I feeling this way? "I'll be back," I assure her again, holding the limb in my hand tightly. I let the limb go, and then I climb into the fissure with a limb around my leg.

The crevice is wide and rough, and I climb it slowly, glad that it angles down about 45 degrees instead of going straight up. After some time, the light from the chamber starts fading, and I start hoping that I can make it in the darkness without stumbling and sliding back down to where I started. Yet, I feel pretty safe, because she still has a hold of me.

My progress is slow, but eventually I get far enough where she says, "I must let you go."

I stop. My heart starts pounding again, and my breath speeds up. I don't understand my reaction; it must be scared of being left alone in the darkness.

I want to reach down and touch her with my hand before she releases my leg, but I'm scared to lose my grip.

I want to say "Thank you." I don't want to say "Good bye." I don't say either. I just say, "I'll come back."

I feel the limb slip from my ankle. As I start to climb again, I start to weep.

Three

It is night. The darkness of the open sky and shadows of the forest would be blinding without a torch, had I not emerged from world of absolute black.

I sit next to the crack in the ground from which I just emerged and unwrap my makeshift utility belt. The bright stars above barely illuminate my efforts to examine my tracer and communicator. The tracer does not light up, as it should have as soon as I made it to the surface; so it's definitely broken. The communicator, however, definitely works; it was useless underground, but the static noise it made meant it wasn't damaged. All I have to do is turn it on; I wouldn't even have to speak into it because it would act as a tracer, instantly alerting the ship or any search parties of my location.

While doing all this checking and evaluating, I am still crying.

I set aside the communicator, curl up on the ground with my arms around my knees, and give myself to the hurt.

Think. Think. Don't just cry. Don't just hurt. Think.

I... feel... alone.

I... am... alone.

Yes... that's how I feel. I'm by myself out here on this wild planet, at night.

No... I am alone.

Yes... I'm by myself right now, but one touch on the communicator will bring people here within 30 earth minutes or less.

No... I am alone.

I am... untouched...

I am... unknown...

Four

My return to the corps earned me lots of cheers, hugs, and claps on the back. Swaddled in thermal blankets, I was swept up by corps members into a shuttle, where I was plied with food, water and unending attention. On the ship, I was taken to the infirmary for a long period of scans and tests and then placed in a sit-down shower. I stayed in the infirmary for 24 Earth hours, isolated from everyone but the medical staff as I waited for my results. At the end of the period, I was given a clean bill of health and escorted by a nurse to my quarters.

A handful of gifts were placed in my quarters, including some flowers from Yu Yin, the botanist who's the coordinator of the civilian science corps, and sweets from the corps members who found me. I perused the gifts for a moment; then I noticed the blinking light on the comm on my desk. I went to sit at the desk and touched the light, activating the viewer.

There were many messages on my comm, including ones from Yu Yin, Jamal El-Kati from the psychology team, and Captain Rodriguez. They were all happy to know that I'm alive and well, and they were urging me to call them back or come see them soon. They all want to know what happened to me.

As I was watching the messages, my door alert beeped. "Who is it?" I said, which was automatically broadcast over the speaker outside my quarters.

"Yu Yin."

"Enter," I said, and the door opened. Yu Yin rushed into the room and threw her arms around me while I was still sitting down. "I was going to go nuts if I had to wait any longer to see you!" she sighed.

I hugged her back, and we held each other for moment. Yu Yin's embrace was strong and tight, as if I might disappear again if she let me go. We've hugged like the good friends we are before, but she had never held me like this before. I felt a bit confused by it.

"Damn that quarantine," she finally said as she slowly let me go. I rose up from my seat at the desk. "Come on, let's sit down," I told her as I walked to my sofa. We sat there together, with Yu Yin gazing at me as if I were some kind of precious jewel. She placed her hand on my shoulder, took a breath and said, "So--I just don't know what to say. It's been so hard doing my job and being upset about you."

"Having to keep the rest of the corps from freaking out, huh?" I responded.

"Oh, you!" she said, shaking my shoulder at my little crack, and then she answered, "Having to be the coordinator, having to be responsible, having to keep everything and everybody functional while working with Captain Rodriguez to handle this crisis... "

"The crisis of me," I finished what she said.

She clicked her tongue at my remark, and then she took a big breath and laid her head back on the seat, looking up at the ceiling for a moment. Then she raised her head, turned to me and said, "I don't know if you remember--I heard you had bumped your head and gotten knocked out--but I was the last person who saw you before you got lost."

"I remember," I said. As was routine, I told her where I was going and what I was doing--following the trail of some slug-like animals--and then I walked off.

"I felt so responsible," she continued. "I just kept thinking in the back of my mind, while I was doing my duties and managing the situation, what could I have done to prevent what happened?"

"Followed behind me and fallen down a sinkhole with me?" I answered.

"Will you be serious?" Yu Yin said. "You've always got to be so detached and flippant."

"I am serious," I told her. "And by the way, being 'detached and flippant,' as you call me, is how I get through things. You know that. And that's how I got through this."

After a pause, Yu Yin said, "Damn, you were lost on the planet for three days, and here I am fussing with you. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Then she took me in her arms again.

Again, I'm thrown off by her strong displays of emotion and affection. And why does she say she's sorry? She doesn't know if she's hurt me. She doesn't know at all.

To get through my confusion, I say to her, "Well, it's not like being lost for three days would magically change me from being a smart ass."

I could tell she tried not to laugh, but that remark forced a giggle from her mouth. She loosened her embrace and looked me in the eye. "Well, losing you has definitely changed me," she spoke with a conviction that scared me a little.

"Into what, a nervous wreck?" I couldn't help myself.

Yu Yin pursed her lips and gave the "you smart ass" look. Then she said, "Into somebody that needs to value people over plants."

The things Yu Yin said, the way she looked at me, her hugs, they all seemed to be trying to tell me something. I wanted to ask her; I wanted to touch her as strongly as she was touching me. I want to know her.

Suddenly, Yu Yin sat back from me, took a breath, and said, "You must be tired, after all you've been through."

"Uh, yeah," I said. "Though I swear the worst part was being scrubbed and scanned to death in the infirmary."

Yu Yin smiled a little, and then she said, "I probably should let you rest. It's close to sleep period for me, anyway. Unlike you, I have to work tomorrow."

"Yeah, lucky me, can't work until I pass Jamal's psych evaluation," I cracked.

She looked at me as if she wanted to respond, but instead she hugged me again. "I'm so glad you're all right," she whispered. Then she stood up and turned toward the door. Just before she tapped the opener, she turned around and said, "Could I come over tomorrow at about 1700, after work is over? You know, to eat dinner?"

"Sure."

"Good," she said. "See you tomorrow." She tapped the door open and left.

As I got up from the sofa, my mind was awash with confusion and emotion. I just didn't understand Yu Yin--her emotions, her expressions, nothing. But then, I didn't understand what I was feeling or thinking anymore.

Even though I had nothing to do at no particular time tomorrow before 1700, I felt the need to turn off the lights and go to bed, hoping the dark, quiet and comfort would still my swirling head.

Closing my eyes, I imagined I felt a touch on my leg, heard a voice in my head.

Five

I told everybody I fell into a crack in the ground that put me out of range of communicators, broke my tracer, and wandered through underground caverns until I found my way to the surface.

After I told Jamal El-Kati, the psychologist, in an evaluation session what I told everybody else about what happened to me, he certified me fit for returning to work, with a recommendation that I take on duties gradually and report to him any symptoms of post-traumatic stress from my ordeal.

I wasn't surprised when the first duty call I got was from the geology team. They asked me about the object I had tied into my makeshift utility belt; the medical staff had passed on the object to them after making sure it didn't have any pathogens or toxins. They also asked me if I would go down to the planet with them and show them the place where I emerged so they could explore it. I said I'd be glad to do it.

By the time the shuttle containing the geology team and me landed on the surface, I had briefed them on the crevice I crawled up from and the chamber to which it leads. We were all fully equipped for a spelunking expedition through geothermically active areas: lighted headgear, communicators and tracers that would work among members of the group when we're underground--but with no underground-to-surface communication--climbing gear, thermo-suits, medical kits and the safety of numbers.

Once we landed, I pointed out the crevice, and the team and I started the climb down. Michel, the geology team coordinator, was the first to go, with me the second to last in the five-person line that carefully descended into the underground.

By the time I made it into the chamber, Michel and the other two team members who preceded me were taking in the majesty of the chamber and the magma pit. Sarita, the team member who was behind me, uttered "Wow" once she backed out of the crevice and turned around.

"Amazing, huh?" I responded.

"'Amazing'? This is breathtaking. The rock formations, the obsidian, and that pit--this is a rockhound and a volcanologist's paradise!" Sarita raved, and then said, "So this is the light that led you out of the darkness?"

"Yep," I answered, and then I suggested, "Why don't we get a closer look at the magma pit? I couldn't get too close to it when I was down here before, of course."

"Sure," she said. "With our thermo-suits, we can practically get right on top of it."

Sarita and I walked across the expansive floor of the chamber until we got to the pit. Michel was already there with one other team member, dipping a staff in the magma to measure its temperature and collect hot, glowing samples that cooled to blackness on the staff's tip.

The magma pool was a swirling mass that flowed and ebbed like a slow-motion pulling of the tide on water; it seemed to flow from a crack in the farthest wall of the chamber, a slow ooze from a fiery spring.

"This is hypnotic," I told Sarita. "I could stare at this all day."

"Me too," she agreed, "But I've got to go help Jake collect rock samples," she added, pointing to the fourth member of the team who was breaking chunks off the walls. "We're not going to spend a lot of time here because we don't want you just standing around while we do a bunch of work. Besides, we want to see if we can find where you collected this." She reached into a pocket on her suit and pulled out a light-colored ball.

"That's it?" I asked.

"You don't recognize it?" Sarita said with surprise.

"I never saw it, remember?" I told her.

"Oh, yeah!" she realized.

"Can I hold it?" I asked.

"Sure," she said, and she handed it to me. "You might as well keep it while we're down here."

As Sarita went to assist Jake, I studied the object with my eyes. After a moment, I realized that looking at it showed me nothing about it, and holding it with gloved hands didn't either. I put the object into a pocket on my suit and then pulled off my right glove, turning and walking away from the magma pit a few paces so I wouldn't get burned. With my bare hand, I pulled the object out of my pocket and rolled it around in my palm with my fingers.

Soft. Powdery. Smooth.

I raised my face shield with my left hand and quickly touched the tip of my tongue against the object.

Good. Good. Good.

I put the object into my pocket and looked around. Michel and team member Shawn were still working with the magma pit, and Sarita and Jake were gathering rocks.

I walked back to the edge of the magma pool, where I partially opened the front of my suit. With a quick flick of my hand, I removed my tracer and communicator and dropped them into the pool.

I looked around again, and Michel and Shawn were walking my way.

"How're ya doin'?" Michel called out to me.

"I'm good," I said.

"Let's head over to the chamber entrance," he said.

As I was closer to the entrance than Michel and Shawn, I started my walk separately from the two. Sarita and Jake were even further from entrance when they took their cue from us and started walking.

I made it to the chamber entrance well before the geology team. Then I stepped into the passageway, threw off my lighted headpiece, and ran.

I didn't stop running until the light from the chamber was like a single star in the night sky.

I didn't hear voices or steps behind me. They wouldn't have known which direction in the passageway I may have gone. They may be so frightened by my disappearance that they left to get help--humans are still scared of monsters in the dark.

As I walked the way my smell, my touch and my memory directed me, I reached for my hair and took my braids down, one by one.

Yu Yin, I'm sorry.

###

I move with the softness of the dirt.

I sweat with the struggle to know her. Her need to know overwhelms me.

She can never know what I know, feel what I feel. I can't imagine what such knowing could be like.

But we try. Oh, we try. Working with the acuteness of her touch, against the bluntness of mine.

Complete and total knowing.

THE END


Copyright 2017, Stephani Maari Booker

Bio: Stephani Maari Booker's speculative fiction has been published in The Future of Us: An Anthology (Charlotte Bailey & Florence Okoye, editors, https://issuu.com/afrofutures_uk ) and Jalada 02: Afrofuture(s) ( https://jaladaafrica.org ). For more information about Stephani's work, go to www.goodreads.com/athenapm

E-mail: Stephani Maari Booker

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