“My planet died.”
“Your planet ‘died’? Come on, isn’t that a bit clichéd?”
“It seems to me, young man, that it’s a bit clichéd to seek asylum from an oppressive government. But it’s happening all the time and recently, no less.”
“As I said, my planet died. But it’s important to clarify that this was not my planet. I don’t know where my people originated, only that when we travel, we do so in a liquefied state. Memories and knowledge are stored in bio-neural cells.
“My container landed on a planet, where my gelatinous form eventually came into contact with the genetic material of the dominant species.”
“How could you be so sure it was the dominant species? I mean we have, what, six billion species on this planet alone. You could have come into contact with insects, fish, rodents, bacteria. What made you think this was the dominant species?”
“Oh, right, you’re human. I keep forgetting that you think all intelligent life in the universe has the same set of arms and legs, speaks English, and can inexplicably have your babies if you just stick your flash drive in the right port. May I continue, please?”
“Right, so, within hours of coming into contact with this genetic material, my form expanded and took the shape of the creatures that now surrounded me. If I were to compare them to something you might be familiar with, I would say they closely resembled elephants or rhinoceroses.
“Among them, but not one of them. If my arrival seemed strange, then it only bothered them for a moment as they continued to graze upon the vast field of grass, flowers, and complicated plant life. I grazed with them.
“We grazed, then we moved on. We found a new field and we grazed. I lost track of the time because I had no concept of time before arriving on this world. We slept when it grew dark, for it seemed that these creatures were diurnal. To my knowledge, we encountered no other significant form of life besides the grass, the flowers, and the complicated plant life on which we grazed.
“Then the Invaders arrived. Their space ship landed just a short distance from where we were grazing. It was many, many times larger than the container, which brought me here.”
“I have to interrupt you again. Can you explain how, if you had no concept of time, you know the ship was bigger than yours? How can you have a concept of size, but not of time?”
“You were born, right? You slid off your mommy’s belly, into the waiting arms of a man, or woman, who slapped your ass to get you breathing? Do you remember it exactly like that, or do you just know that it’s what happened? Yes. Time, size, and what earthbound animals these creatures resembled are all details that I can tell you retrospectively and the fact that I have to explain that to you makes you less intelligent than they were.”
“Okay. Fair enough.”
“They didn’t react. My brothers and sisters that is. No, keep your mouth shut. They were my family in the adoptive sense and so they were my brothers and sisters. Do my own people have brothers and sisters? Not a clue. Moving on.
“The Invaders left their ship and began walking among us. My brothers and sisters continued grazing like there wasn’t anything unusual about encountering another complicated life form. This was all strange to me. Why didn’t they run from the towering machine that now dominated the horizon?
“They carried a strange baton and I watched as they pressed the end of it to one of my brothers in the distance. The creature cried out and then fell. More Invaders did this, but my fellow grazers still did not react.
“One of the Invaders approached me. An instinct welled up within me. Did it come from this creature’s natural survival instinct that was so strong in me because I was newly one of them, or was it the natural instinct of my own species? Perhaps it was a carryover from another form I once adopted, but I had no memory before reaching this planet. No, not Earth, simpleton, the other this planet. The Invader reached out to touch me with the baton and I struck out, slamming my head into its body. Clearly, it didn’t expect this, for it didn’t have time to react or to defend itself, and it crumpled to the ground where it remained motionless. It may have cried out in pain, I don’t remember.
“What I do remember is the silence. Except for the cries of my brothers and sisters who were being taken down in other parts of the field, the ones who were closest to me did nothing. The only sound I could hear was the grazing and the excreting. None of them looked to me or to the Invaders. Neither of them seemed spurred by my example to revolt and strike back against their attackers.”
“Maybe they weren’t really killing any of you. Maybe the Invaders were just rounding you up to relocate you.”
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
“So… they were killing you?”
“Well, they weren’t going to let me live after that. The one I had struck down was no longer breathing. His colleagues surrounded me on all sides and before I could react, I felt enough electricity pouring through my body that it would power this city for the next one thousand years.
“The world went dark. Inside, I was still aware, but I couldn’t feel anything. Not even emotion. You always imagine that the spirit has a heightened sense of awareness, that it can feel things in ways that the living cannot imagine. I had no sense of dread or sadness over losing what had been my life up until that point. I knew that I was alive and aware, but that all I would have were my memories of traveling with the herd of those wonderful creatures, and grazing upon the grass, flowers, and complicated plant life.
“How much time had passed? Would it end, eventually, if at all?
“I became aware of my body returning to the gelatinous state. The memory of my container returned and something like fear or uncertainty came to me, as I realized that I was lying in the grass of an alien world, at my most vulnerable. Could something devour or drink me? Would those creatures avoid me the way you might avoid a spill or a dead animal in the street? I knew that at least I might have a form again, very soon, if the Invaders left anything that might eventually touch me.
“Touch! I was touching something! I could feel the grass beneath what I would later understand to be hands of the Invader. All over, my body was sending me signals, registering the soft grass and the hard soil upon which my body lay.
“It took some time before I could understand how this new body worked. I tested the joints and the strength of my muscles. Then, I opened my eyes and saw the empty field that surrounded me. The smells of my brothers and sisters, which had once been negligible when I shared their form, were now stronger and somewhat unpleasant to the senses of this new creature.
“I realized then that the Invaders had left my body where they had killed me. And in the time it took for that body to decay, I had come into contact with the genetic material left behind by the one I had killed. The ship was still there, sitting at the edge of the field like a towering monster, enjoying a nice long nap after gorging. The Invaders had either returned to the ship or were looking for more of those creatures. I didn’t know what else to do, so I stumbled towards the ship, getting used to this new body and these new legs.
“Just to put your querying mind at rest, this Invader’s body was very similar to yours. Perhaps a great deal taller, with bulging muscles on the arms and legs that would qualify it for an Olympic event, but otherwise you would mistake it for one of your own easily enough.
“The ship loomed over me, the closer I got. As I was wondering how I would gain access, a platform emerged from the bottom of the vessel and someone beckoned me in. I wondered how I must look to this Invader, stumbling in out of the wild, buck naked.
“’I’m so sorry, Sir,” the Invader said to me. ‘I was told you had died out there. Forgive me, they don’t tell me anything at this level.’
“I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. He registered my blank stare and then, very apologetically said, ‘Oh no, of course. You just look like him, that’s all. Forgive me again, Sir, I am a bit dense, which is why I am kept at this level’.
“In the course of events, I learned that there were thousands of Invaders aboard this ship. It wasn’t at all unusual to not recognize someone who had apparently gone wandering in the fields of an alien world after celebrating a successful harvest.
“Nothing more was said of the matter. I was taken to my cabin and given fresh clothes. No one asked me much about my experiences or my history. It was as if I had found another species of those grazing creatures, completely oblivious to my presence among them, although I would have preferred the grazers, given the choice.”
He stopped talking and stared off into space. I waited to see if he would continue the story and considered prompting him for more information. But then the announcement came over the speaker that my train would be arriving in five minutes.
The cardboard sign in his hand said, “Ask Me About My Planet,” in big sloppy letters, written in black marker. His answer was worth a couple of dollars, which I dropped into the small plastic container beside his lap.
I got onto the train and found a seat by the window. Just as we were about to enter the tunnel, I looked out the window and saw a woman standing near the homeless man, curious about the sign. I wondered what the grass, and the flowers, and the complicated plant life would taste like.