“You needn’t put it so darkly; it may be uncomfortable but it has its own pleasure.” And Jun grinned mischievously, which did not help Martha feel any better. The two women watched each other for a long time under the window. The sky was lighter now and their faces appeared more clearly in the dim room. Jun’s face looked strained, her eyes bloodshot.
“You know,” she whispered, “I came here to wipe your memory.”
“Are you trying to frighten me?”
“Not at all. No, you are not one easily frightened. But all of this disturbance could be gone forever, and I could leave your life and hide somewhere else. I will not make you help me.”
Martha honestly was not motivated to help the stranger who claimed to be an alien. If she had not seen a few fantastic things happen today she would have thought the woman insane, but there was some evidence to what she was saying and Martha wasn’t a fool. Martha felt curious, and she was the sort who, once they had made up their mind about finding out about a matter, would figure out how to do it.
“Show me that you are not lying, and I will help you,” Martha said.
She reached towards Martha slowly, and Martha saw—or felt, she could not decide—a white light radiating from Jun’s glove.
It felt very much like a drop of water landing on your forehead, but in a way it felt like nothing at all. And suddenly Martha stood on solid ground in a shade wood. The pale grey trees stood in straight lines on either side and everything lay completely silent. The wind did not stir in the trees; the birds did not sing, the crickets did not chirp. The air bit, frigid, and Martha stood alone by a wide straight path.
She felt she had been stupid about all of this. In every instance so far she did not know what to do or what was going on; she tried to gather her senses more closely and pay attention to everything around her. The sky seemed to whirling, she noticed first; the shadows seemed to speed across the ground. Jun stood a few feet to her left, sitting at the foot of a tree and staring up at the clouds.
“Welcome to my mind,” she said. “Sorry—I know it is quite different from yours. They’re sort of actual places, or they become like that as we grow older. The more realistic your mind, the older you are.”
Her lips did not move as she said all of this, and Martha realized that her voice seemed to penetrate from the wood as if it was coming from it. Martha walked closer to Jun and watched her carefully. Somehow this wood seemed to fit her like a glove.
“You feel like you cannot doubt what I say in this place, and you are right for this is my mind and it cannot lie. You sense that; again, you are a bright one.” Martha looked around in awe at the silent forest, almost at ease.
“You said that someone is after you?” Martha asked. “For a crime you did not commit? If your people are telepathic, wouldn’t they be able to decide whether you are guilty or not?”
“Three thousand years with telepathy and you don’t think that we’ve found ways to get around that sort of thing? Anyways,” she added tentatively, “What do you think of my mind? Is it—pretty? Comfortable? I hope that it doesn’t embarrass you that I ask—we become a little more frank this way.”
“I understand.” Martha found that the strange woman’s words became far more believable in this strange forest, or orchard, whichever it was.
“I will show you then, what has been going on, and why I need your help. You can believe everything that I say; there is no way for me to lie for you in this place, for my thoughts cannot help but be honest. But that sometimes makes them harder to follow; pay attention to my meaning. Now, the first things that I need to show you—“
And she flashed before Martha’s eyes a man, living and breathing and standing quite closer to her than she would have liked, a man with glowing grey eyes and dark red hair. He had his hand on the hilt of the weapon at his side, and he talked gently to Martha.
“Do not believe her, she is a thief, the destroyer of the Peace, a scoundrel—“ and in a moment he vanished and Jun stood shaking a little and trying to look unaffected, hardening her face.
“I am sorry that you had to see that,” Jun said. “It is how I feel about him; that is all. He is Rum, and he was willing to sacrifice everything in order to see through my justice. And he is wrong!”
Martha looked around. The forest seemed to have changed a little, drawn closer about her and their leaves thicker, growing higher up and blocking out the sky. She tried to move closer to Jun but she felt almost as if she was under water, and it had gotten harder to breathe. Jun had warned her about the discomfort. She moved slowly over the roots and stones towards Jun and waited.
Jun stood silent for a while. She looked deeply into Martha’s eyes for a long time and the eye-contact lasted for what felt like hours. It felt so intimate, Martha realized. All the while the trees around them continued closing in and growing taller, their branches slowly darkening the forest ceiling. They were her thoughts, and she was thinking, yet she was shielding the thoughts from Martha and Martha could feel it. Perhaps she thought that she had already said too much, but she never told Martha why. Finally Jun said, “I am an alien. I am a thief, I will not deny it; but I did not steal this particular thing. This particular thing has the capacity to destroy the world, but I did not take it and I never would! I don’t believe in killing. But they all think that I have done it and that is why I left our planet. They are wrong. I would have done no such thing. I ran away from our planet because I did not want to get arrested for a crime I didn’t commit, and is that so hard to understand?”
“You are so very honest about your flaws!” Martha observed.
“That is the Mari way, my dear,” Jun replied. “The more honest you are about how you feel, and the less you lie about your flaws and your problems, the more likely you are going to get help and people are going to trust and like you. It’s good manners, you understand.”
“And do you know that in our culture all of this turns out to be extremely overwhelming?” Martha exclaimed.
“Well you’ll have to get over it! You should be thankful you have a more accurate knowledge of the universe than anyone around you who thinks that aliens are preposterous. What narrowmindedness! Do you have any idea how many stars there are out there?”
“This seems to be something you are very passionate about,” Martha observed dryly.
“There is nothing wrong with being passionate,” Jun replied. “Oh, I can’t get a human like you to understand this sort of thing. But you will have to trust me. The device that I use to get around, to hide, to vanish—it’s been malfunctioning. It’s supposed to be able to make this silly spacesuit to disappear and replace it with regular clothes. At least the translator is still working, but I have a hard time with your dialect. Would you mind me asking where I am?”
“Welcome to America. Minnesota.”
“Oh! You have a giant, no?”
“That is just a bedtime story; I am surprised that you know anything about it.”
“I studied Earth mythology in college; your species is very interesting to us. Thanks to your internet we know everything about you.”
That made Martha very uncomfortable somehow, but she could say nothing about it.
The contact slowly faded away. Martha was in her own head, in her own body, dizzy and holding on to the corner on the wall. Jun put her helmet down and got down on her knees.
“I beg sanctuary. I don’t mean to bring a threat to your family, but I need somewhere to hide.”
“You are not a threat—“ Martha said, and how those words would be proven so wrong in the days to come! “You are not a threat. You are welcome here, I suppose. It’ll be interesting, like a story. Only—I do hope that you get your watch fixed soon so that you can leave.” She realized how rude this probably sounded and flushed red, but Jun did not seem to have noticed. She was deep in thought.
“I will repay you for this, in any way I can,” Jun said. “This kind of favor shall not go unrewarded. I can’t guarantee your safety.”
“I am quite capable of keeping myself safe, thank you,” Martha replied. “I will give you the spare bedroom. You are not allergic to anything? I have a cat. Aren’t aliens supposed to be allergic to everything?”
“That is what the spacesuit is for.”
“That is brilliant!”
“Like I said, our technology is far superior to yours.”