I told them that Las Vegas was where we should go to find the kind of woman we were looking for, but the captain overruled me and ordered us to Kansas instead. That's how he put it to the navigator -- "Kansas" -- like it was a set of coordinates or something, instead of a whole big-ass state. These Areoleans, they're always having trouble with details like that: city or state, human or animal, man or woman. It's all a broad brush to them, as if their entire understanding of the planet came from lazily skimming the briefest of summaries. Earth: The Cliff's Notes. The captain didn't want to admit it, but I figured out pretty quickly (even through the buzzing mechanical jumble of the Auto-Translator) that his Kansas obsession stemmed from the fact that he'd intercepted and studied a transmission of the film The Wizard of Oz during an earlier expedition.

He fancied himself an expert on Earth in general, and Kansas in particular, and he was just sure as anything that we'd very quickly find the woman we needed amid all that colorful frolicking and music. I tried to explain to him that he was confusing Oz, an imaginary place, with Kansas, a real place, and I tried to tell him what the real Kansas was like, and why it probably wouldn't suit the purposes of our mission, but he wouldn't listen. Hey, what the hell do I know, I just grew up on this planet, why listen to me when we have a bona fide Wizard of Oz expert on board who has been to Earth a whole two times? Fat little three-legged know-it-all bastard. It took us a week of hovering around Topeka before we finally found a woman who would go for it.

She was a redhead, thirty-ish, pretty, a little on the busty side. Part of the deal was that I got to pick her, and that's what I was looking for: nice curves, nice boobs, nice hair, pretty. I'm not picky, but I figured after all these light-years of flavorless food and sun-less skies and being surrounded by ship-mates who are half my height and not even remotely of the same species, I deserved to be a little picky. The Areoleans didn't care one way or the other who I picked, as long as she was female. (Not that they'd know the difference if I decided to pull one over on them; for a supposedly more advanced culture, they are remarkably unobservant little things.)

Her name was Jackie. "As in `Kennedy-Onassis,' " she told me, with a smirk, over our drinks in a quiet bar on the outskirts of the city. "My parents were into celebrity gossip, and I guess she was still a big deal when I was born, in '73." I nodded. I remembered well what a big deal Jackie Kennedy Onassis had been in the early 1970s (right around the time I left) because that was, to me, just a year or two ago. But of course I couldn't tell that to this Jackie. I didn't know whether she was even familiar with Einstein's theory (well, more than a theory, as it turns out) about what happens to a person's relationship with time when he spends a few dozen years traveling at near-light speeds. How does one explain to one's date -- to whom one appears to be roughly of her own generation, age-wise -- that one is actually old enough to be her grandfather? And more to the point, how would that revelation, interesting though it may be, advance one's mission-goal of having sex with her?

It had been awhile since I'd done this, picked up a woman in a bar. In one sense, it had been maybe three years since I'd done this, but in another sense, it had been something like four decades. I could assume that the mechanics of the ritual were pretty much the same -- libation, conversation, flirtation, consummation -- but I was worried about whether I could navigate the nuances now, the subtle cultural shadows that you don't recognize from studying radio transmissions and satellite intercepts. Sitting there in the bar, trying to lock eyes with her at the other side of the room, I'd only gradually become aware of how much those cultural shadows had shifted at the edges. The bar was still a bar -- in some ways so similar to the bars I remembered that I was momentarily embarrassed for my species' lack of evolution since I'd been gone -- but then I began to notice things. The air felt strangely light, with none of the trademark haze that defines the air of a bar, and I eventually discerned that it was because not a single cigarette was burning in the whole place. (There weren't even any ashtrays. In a bar!) The bars I'd remembered usually had a boxy television set tuned to a football game or something, but this one had, like, five television sets -- huge, remarkably flat ones, hanging from the walls like murals -- and they were tuned to several different sports, two of the which I didn't recognize. A little machine stood in one corner of the room under a glowing sign that announced, "ATM -- CASH," and I spent a good deal of time wondering what that was all about. The bartender, instead of jabbing at a cash register, poked at a computer screen. The whole setting was just a little off, like a blurry photograph of something familiar.

The clothing and hair styles were different, of course, and I'd expected that much. I'd warned the Areoleans about how quickly hair and clothing styles change on Earth, and I had suggested that we take a little extra time to do some reconnaissance and manufacture an updated image for me before embarking on the mission, but as usual they wouldn't listen. Upon walking into the bar, I was immediately aware that my hair, a little too short by the standards of the time when I'd left, was now, clearly, a little too long. I think my clothing, though, was the bigger issue. I concluded, from the long, open stares I received from every corner of the bar, that my snug white slacks with the flared cuffs at the bottom weren't "in" anymore. Or maybe it was my wide-collared silk button shirt with the thick blue-and-gold vertical stripes and the lime-green sleeves. A few minutes after arriving, I buttoned up the top few buttons of the shirt, and that seemed to help diminish the stares somewhat, but it was still clear that I wasn't going to win any fashion awards.

"You should have listened to me about the clothes," I muttered behind my beer, knowing that they were listening. "I'll be lucky to get the time of day down here, let alone get laid."

But as it turned out, the clothes worked to my advantage. "That's a helluva shirt," Jackie said, grinning -- pretty close to laughing, actually -- as she happened upon me at the bar while ordering her drink. I thanked her for the compliment, and she grinned and sort-of laughed again in response, and then asked me if I was going to a costume party or something.

"Actually," I said, making an impromptu strategic decision, "I'm dressed like this because this was how people dressed when the aliens picked me up, in 1971. They didn't give me time to pack anything else."

She laughed fully this time, as I pondered whether the strategy had been a good idea. The Areoleans were pondering it too, and angrily; I could hear them howling their falsetto little howls through my inner-ear implants, demanding to know why the hell I was telling her that.

"Aliens," she said, chuckling. "Hippie aliens, right?"

"Actually, I was the hippie. Sort of," I said, pressing ahead with the strategy while trying to ignore the sounds of pissed off aliens echoing in my ears. "They were here on a scientific expedition, and they took some specimens, including me. Now they've come back to run some field tests. I'm part of the mission."

"And what, exactly, mister hippie space-traveler," she asked, still grinning, "is your mission?"

In my ears, I distinctly heard the captain growl through the Auto-Translator: "Don't dare you!" (The Auto-Translator jumbles words sometimes.)

"My mission," I said, ignoring Captain Whiney-Butt, "is to find a willing woman, and pick her up, and have sex with her."

"Ah," she said, with mock scientific detachment. "And this little experiment will take place on their spaceship?"

"No, no. Here. I mean, not here in this bar -- here on Earth. In my hotel room."

"The aliens rented you a hotel room?"

I nodded. "They have a budget."

"And they'll be observing this . . . experiment?"

"Mmm-hmm. Through my eyes and ears. They've installed implants."

"Of course," she said, still trying to sound scientifically detached, but allowing a few little chuckles to slip through. "And are there any particular . . . positions . . . the aliens would like to see you use with this `willing woman'?"

"Yes. They gave me a list." In fact, they did.

"And obviously," she reasoned, as if it all made sense now, "they figured that Kansas would be just the place to go for this sort of thing."

"Obviously," I agreed. I didn't mention the captain and his Wizard of Oz fetish. I mean, why get into it?

I knew she'd either avert her eyes and walk quickly away from me, or sit down and playfully talk more with me about my mission. It was the latter -- she scooted onto the stool next to me after a few minutes -- which prompted the captain and crew to finally shut up and let me do my job. We soon took our conversation to a secluded corner table, where she continued debriefing me about my mission, while I considered how I should go about debriefing her.

"So if they picked you up in 1971," she said, doing the math, "then you must have been a baby."

"Actually, I was just a little younger than I am now," I corrected her. When she responded with a look of confusion, I added: "Y'know -- `Theory of Relativity'."

"Oh? Now how does that work?" She smiled slyly. "I mean, I know, of course, but I'm testing you."

"Einstein said the closer you travel to light speed, the slower time moves for you. I've been traveling at near-light speeds for most of the past thirty-some-odd years. Time, from my perspective, has slowed to a crawl. Honestly, it seems like I just left here last year."

"Well, that explains why you're so darned fashionable," she said, surveying my blue-gold-green striped silk shirt. "So that makes you . . . how old?"

"I'm seventy-nine. Or, I mean, I would be seventy-nine, if I'd stayed here the whole time."

"Wow," she marveled. "You don't look a day over seventy."

We drank, and talked. She told me about her life: born in Kansas, not far from here; divorced, no kids; a job in sales that paid the bills but bored her. I told her about growing up in Indiana, about my parents, with whom I'd not gotten along too well in the '60s. ("You had to be there, in those times, and you weren't born yet," I reminded her.) I told her about my younger brother, who'd looked up to me when we were growing up, and who was the last human I talked to before I left, and who is the only human I've actually missed.

"He would be in his seventies now," I noted, as much to myself as to her. "Old and frail and retired from whatever it was that he ended up doing with his life. If he's still alive at all." I paused, somberly, then tensely cleared my throat and moved on quickly to another topic, as she chuckled at what she took to be a fine acting job.

And I told her about the Areoleans, everything I knew. I could hear, in my inner ear, the captain and the rest of them still expressing worry and frustration, in their falsetto-howling way, about my strategy, but I knew what I was doing. Fabricated stories are an honored art form in the world of Earth bar pick-ups -- that much had obviously remained unchanged since I'd left -- and she seemed to find it appealing that I had decided, in my quest to pick her up, to go with the little-used alien-abduction approach. She clearly had a sense of humor, and clearly thought that I did as well (actually, I really don't), and perhaps she found something gratifying about my honesty in telling such an obvious lie. That this one happened to be the truth was irrelevant; I could see now that it might work pretty well, bar-pick-up-wise, even for someone who hadn't actually been abducted by aliens.

"Their planet is called `Areola'?" she asked, turning the word over in her mouth.

"That's right."



"Um -- do you know what an `areola' is?"

"That's just a coincidence."

"What's their moon called? `Pubis'?"

Actually, they have two moons. One is called Zogg. I can't pronounce the other one. I told her this, and I told her about their lovely pink sun and the oddly luminescent shadows it casts on the crystalline surface of their planet in the morning, and how their oceans cover nine-tenths of the planet but are only a few inches deep, allowing everyone to walk around on the oceans. I told her how they have three legs, and when she asked where the third one was, and I pointed at my crotch, she laughed. "When they first examined me," I recounted, "and they -- well -- took my pants off, they thought perhaps one of my legs was deformed." She laughed harder, as I smiled tensely, remembering how frightening that initial exam had been.

"And their sun is pink?"

I nodded. "Something about its unique radio-pulse cycle, and the way it translates visually on the color spectrum."

"Well, naturally."

We went to my hotel in her car. When she suggested it -- "Let's go to your hotel and talk more about these aliens and their pink sun and their unpronounceable moon and those big third legs of theirs" -- I could hear, in my inner ear, what I took to be cheering by the Areoleans, and I could imagine the scene up on the ship. In celebration, they do this thing that roughly approximates a human "high-five," except they use their legs.

At the hotel, we kissed, and started to undress, and she continued with the script, apparently not tiring of it.

"These Areoleans -- do they understand what an areola is?" she asked, suggestively, kneeling above me on the bed in her bra and panties.

"No. They think it's just the name of their planet."

"They're watching right now, through your eyes?"


"Do they want to see what their planet is named after?"

"I think they'd like that."

At that, she brought both hands up to the middle of her chest and slowly peeled back both cups of her bra, until the edges of both her nipples peeked out like two half moons. Her nipples where stiff, her areolae fawn-colored, wide and elliptical. She held the pose for a moment, smiling pretty for the twin cameras of my eyes, then announced grandly: "Welcome to Earth!"

The mission went well from there. The Areoleans had been insistent on seeing a lot of foreplay, because it's an especially alien concept to them. (Their own mating process takes three seconds, max, start to finish; any longer, and both partners can wind up paralyzed for life.) I explained this foreplay requirement to Jackie, and she was completely with the program. I kissed her mouth, her breasts, her nipples -- paying special attention to her areolae -- as she provided running commentary for our unseen audience. "The kissing creates a framework of closeness for the more intimate activities to follow," she said, between kisses, sounding a little like the narrator on one of those nature documentary shows on television. "He's sucking my nipples now -- note how they become increasingly erect as a result of this stimulation."

I hit a little speedbump when I slid down her panties and got my first good look between her legs. There was so little hair there that I momentarily wondered whether she was a cancer patient or something. I mean, there was almost none.

Here's the funny part: She noticed how I paused there, and she thought it was for the opposite reason that it was. "I usually shave it closer," she said, apologetically, to me and to the Aeroleans, "but I haven't done it this week. I wasn't expecting this tonight." She clearly was a little embarrassed. "If you want, I could go in the bathroom right now and take care of it. Did the Areoleans send a razor with you, by any chance? . . . "

I finally figured out what was going on -- one more nuanced change since I'd left, like the flat TVs or the computerized cash registers, a new twist on a familiar thing -- and I tried to explain it to her. "When I left," I said, "women, adult women, y'know, grownups, they, um . . . Well, I mean, they, um, down there, they were, um . . . They had, um . . . "

"Oh, you mean bush!" she said, suddenly grinning with epiphany. "That's right, you left in the '70s! They all had bush back then, didn't they? I've seen it in those old Playboys!" She nodded a patient, understanding nod, like you'd nod for an uncultured guest who was trying to figure out which fork to use at dinner. "It's different now," she explained. "Women shave there." Then she looked closer into my eyes and spoke louder and slower, as if into a microphone, for the sake of the Areoleans: "Women. Shave. There."

Getting back on track now, I scooted my face down her body and eased her legs open and pressed my mouth against her fleshy mound, probing her with my tongue and lips, running my fingers along her and inside her, feeling her heat and wetness. She moaned and squirmed and opened her legs a little wider and moaned some more, and I began to remember why I'd liked this particular activity so much back in my old life, when there were still humans with which to do this. (I don't know whether sex between humans and Areoleans is possible; honestly, I wouldn't even know where to start.) She did an admirable job of trying to continue her documentary narration for our alien observers, but she kept slipping off script as I pulled her hard little clitoris between my lips or pushed my tongue inside her: "And now, note how . . . oh! . . . how he's . . . sucking . . . ahh . . . at my . . . clit! . . . while probing me with . . . his . . . fingers . . . oh god! . . . "

I was by now insistently, achingly hard, a feeling I'd not experienced in more than a few light-years. I took her first in the missionary position -- "Named for European `missionaries' who . . . oh! . . . taught natives this way of having sex," she breathlessly explained to the Areoleans, as I plunged inside her -- and we spent the next few hours demonstrating every position either of us could think of.

In between, we rested, and talked. She kept prodding me for more of my travelogue descriptions of Areola and its shallow oceans and its pink sun and its short fat little three-legged inhabitants, prodding me like a kid asking for just one more story before bedtime. She was getting sleepy, her speech blurring at the edges, and there were moments I thought she perhaps was having trouble distinguishing fact from what she thought was fiction -- moments in which it wasn't play-acting anymore, in which she appeared to actually believe it all.

I became aware that I kept using the word "abducted" as I told her about it. I'm not sure why I said that. Truth is, they never forced me to do anything. (I mean, other than landing in Kansas, instead of Las Vegas, which I still think was a bone-headed decision.) Truth is, they gave me the option of staying here, before they took off in '71. They were relatively clear, in their falsetto, Auto-Translator way, about how long I'd be gone if I chose to leave with them. And I left anyway, knowing that when I got back, my parents would be long dead and my brother would be elderly and everyone and everything I'd known and loved would be dust, or well on the way there. I left anyway, and the Areoleans never asked me about why I decided to do that, for which I'm grateful, because it's an embarrassing question, isn't it? It says something, about me, that I went with them, doesn't it? I mean, you don't just up and leave your planet if things are going well for you.

"Why don't you look him up?" she asked, creakily, her eyes closed, and it took me a moment to realize that she was talking about my brother.

"He'd never believe it was me," I said, giving the easy answer. "And if I convinced him it was me, it might send him into a stroke or something. I mean, he's, like, seventy-three, and here comes his big brother who disappeared a lifetime ago -- just left him, with them" -- I cleared my throat, trying not to think about how hurt he had looked when I told him I was going overseas and probably wouldn't be back -- "and still looking the same as I did then. Even wearing the same clothes. It might kill him."

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