He didn’t even like the dog. It was one of those tiny, snuffly, watery eyed yappy things that, in Jack’s book, didn’t really qualify as a dog. It was a series of neuroses and a weak bladder on legs. Marion loved it. She was so involved in her career that she’d decided to put off starting a family but still wanted something to care for, hence the tiny dog that Jack walked and fed and walked and brushed and walked.
Dear lord, but the little bastard could walk. Jack didn’t begrudge the tiny animal a good long walk because, at the end of the day, he needed the exercise too. Anything to get him out of the house and moving. Although when the mutt decided that walkies had to happen in the hour before bed, in the pitch darkness, down the track at the back of the house and into the woods, Jack felt less accommodating.
Tonight was a less accommodating night. Jack slouched through the walk. There wasn’t anything he’d rather be doing, other than maybe knocking back a late night relaxer and maybe turning into a couch zombie, but it was damp and starting to get cold. He sniffed, turned a bend in the track and saw the lights.
Kids came to the woods, sometimes, to park and do the things that young people did when they parked cars late at night. Jack had vague memories of those heady days – was it only a few years back? – when he and Marion might have considered the same thing. Had, actually, on a couple of memorable occasions. He smiled and looked around for another direction to walk in, and saw the stranger.
The stranger was tall, taller than a basketball player. The stranger’s skin was milk white and smooth as marble. If they hadn’t been moving, Jack would have assumed the stranger was a statue and moved on. They both became aware of one another at the same moment, both stepped back in surprise, both eyed the other suspiciously. The stranger’s eyes were entirely black, with a ring of blue dots in the middle, like they were outlining a pupil. He? She? was clothed in a utilitarian style, a one piece outfit with pockets and pouches.
“Hello” said Jack. The Stranger nodded.
“Hello” it said.
“Nice night” said Jack. The Stranger looked up at the clouds, which were thinning out to reveal stars, and then down at Jack.
“It will be” said the Stranger. It paused. “Doubtless you have questions?”
“Oh, definitely” said Jack, who hadn’t. He thought of some. “Uhhh…so, what are you up to?”
“A biodiversity survey” said the Stranger, with obvious relief, “I’m investigating how many variants of basic life forms your planet holds.”
“That must keep you busy” said Jack. The Stranger shrugged.
“A lot of it is automated, but I like to keep my hand in from time to time. You know how it is.”
“Oh yes,” said Jack, who didn’t but thought he ought to. “You speak good English.”
“No,” said the Stranger “we’re actually conducting this conversation telepathically. Most intelligent species can do this with the right facilitation.”
“That must be handy!” said Jack “I bet that cuts down on misunderstandings.”
“Yes” said the Stranger “it’s a very useful aspect of the morphogenic field which binds all life together.”
“Morphs” said Jack, thinking about Power Rangers and hoping that wasn’t a the start of a much longer conversation. The Stranger blinked. Sideways, Jack noted.
The dog barked and fretted at the foot of a tree. It had apparently sniffed everything it wanted to sniff.
“Well,” said Jack “best get on. Good luck with the survey. Have you got much more to do?”
“Not much more” said the Stranger, clipping a cutting from the tree.
“Good night to you, then” said Jack, and wandered off following the little dog.
The Stranger watched him go. After a moment it pocketed the cutting and wandered back to the lights.
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