Chapter 4

Baby Blue Ithaka O. horizontal

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With a gasp, Ben dropped Baby Blue.

Then he was the one being dropped.

With a hard thump, he collided against the gazebo bench. He landed on the wet ground. He cried…

…the way a baby cried. He couldn’t speak. His vocal cords didn’t know how. His vocal cords, not his brain. His brain was fine. Or his soul. Whichever thing that did the being. That thing still functioned. What didn’t function was the shell.

In front of Ben, the other Ben—the one in his body—shook off the rain from the World’s Fair T-shirt.

<If you’re not going to carry me to safety, I have to do it myself,> that Ben said.

Baby Blue had entered Ben’s body. And Ben found himself inside the blue alien baby.

Ben wanted to do what Baby Blue was doing. He wanted to send mind-messages. But he didn’t know how to do that. His being didn’t know how to.

Baby Blue chuckled. He stretched out his long arms. He kicked at the air, moving his long legs. Ben had always known that he was lanky. The bullies from P.E. had made that painfully clear. But looking at his own body from the ground helped him truly realize what unique shape he’d had. He missed that body. It was his.

But that body, with Baby Blue’s being, walked away. The detergent smell moved away with it. Apparently, that fresh laundry smell formed the core of Baby Blue’s being. It wasn’t tied to a particular shell.

The sky had turned halfway blue by now. Ben didn’t feel icy cold or extremely heavy, the way Baby Blue had felt against his lap when he still lived in the baby shell. He wondered if he had blue scales. He had to. It hadn’t moved with Baby Blue to the human shell. Then, even if some charitable Seoulite found him, it was possible he’d spend the rest of his life in a lab. Perhaps they’d torture him to death. Worse, they’d torture him to live as long as possible.

He missed Mom. And Dad. And Sera and Mr. Kang. All the foods from all over the world. All the languages he spoke and could have spoken. His home, here and there. All the places where he’d lived and all the persons he’d been.

He needed his shell back. At various points in life, he’d hated it for its lack of elegance. He’d wished for a more “suitable” shell. But not anymore. No matter what other people may say about it, he wanted it back.

Out of nowhere, a flash of blue light burst in the sky. Then it died down.

A second light burst followed. It also died down.

But thanks to the rising sun, Ben could make out the shapes of the flying saucers. Blue beams shot out of them, mostly at each other. But a single wide beam, identical to the one that had illuminated the alley behind the World’s Fair, reached the park.

<I’m here!> Baby Blue said. It jumped up and down, clumsily running toward the beam using Ben’s body.

And once it got close enough to the beam, Ben’s body and the beam seemed to attract each other like magnets. Ben, in the baby form, could hear Baby Blue laughing in ecstasy. The other saucer kept shooting rays, but that didn’t seem to matter. Baby Blue’s saucer didn’t budge from its spot in the sky. And Baby Blue tumbled upward, awkwardly acrobatic, toward a hole in the belly of the saucer…

…and got stuck.

Ben could hear it grunt in pain. It was too large. Its kind apparently hadn’t wanted the salaryman-simulacra to get in. So it had limited the size of the hole.

In his baby form, Ben—the soul—laughed. Surprisingly, he found his own sound delightful. Baby laughter, after all, even in a situation like this, tended to have uplifting effects.

That was when the beam abruptly went off. Baby Blue, in Ben’s form, fell from a height of ten meters or so, screaming.

The beam went on again. It pointed at Ben. Something pulled. Ben could feel it. An invisible force attempted to attract him. The air around him wingg wingg wingg wingged incessantly, the way the strings on a violin vibrated during a performance. But alas, he wasn’t Baby Blue. He wasn’t leaden-heavy, which might be what triggered the magnetic effect. And even if they were to somehow get him inside the saucer, they’d quickly find out that he didn’t smell as nice.

<I’m right here, you fools! Your prince is here!>

Baby Blue lay collapsed on the ground: completely flat, just like Ben. It turned out, when you were lying down, it mattered little whether your shell was shaped like a grown human man or an alien baby. Flat was flat.

You broke my God damn legs, you intergalactic idiot! Ben wanted to scream.

But he couldn’t. So, in frustration, he wiggled in the black silk. He wanted to see exactly what was going on with his current shell. But that proved difficult to accomplish at this angle. He couldn’t even properly feel his body. It seemed that his perception of himself depended too much on visual cues. Without them, he couldn’t even tell whether his new body had legs or not. So, if someone were to ask him right now: What’s it like to be an alien baby? Ben would have to answer: How should I know?!

Tapping into the subconscious memory that he’d long forgotten, Ben twisted his body, the way an infant does for the first time—

—and nothing happened.

He twisted again—

—oh, this baby’s backbone was so malleable, it couldn’t possibly support its own weight.

And still, Ben tried to twist around—

—and managed to roll over!

On his belly, he crawled out of the black silk bundle. He glanced down at his own body. He had legs. In fact, aside from all the blueness and scales, he looked no different from a human baby. His heart jolted in relief. Good. He still had a heart.

Using the tiny legs and arms, Ben kept crawling forward. The saucer had given up the beam pick-up strategy. Instead, it shot attack rays at the enemy saucer. That one fired back. Soon, with none of them paying any attention to their prince in the park, Ben couldn’t tell which was which.

But he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he wanted his old body back. That body, the one that Baby Blue had stolen, writhed on the wet paved ground that glistened in the increasingly bright sunlight.

Damn it, there were so many things in the world that could change, but that one was his. All the reasons for which he’d found it inconvenient had been trivial. Who cared what other people thought? And to hell with Baby Blue’s crap about advanced lifeforms and a higher plane. Ben didn’t want to be advanced. He didn’t mind the lower plane. In fact, he loved the lower plane.

With that burning love for his body in mind, Baby Ben crawled forward. The scales scratched on the road bricks and generated painfully ugly grating sounds. But luckily, he could feel no blood flowing out of the wounds. If he’d had to deal with blue blood, on top of all this blueness of his snakeskin, quite possibly he would’ve given up.

Instead, forward. Toward the smell of detergent.

As Baby Ben got closer, he could see that his original body had become like a heap of wet laundry. Baby Blue sobbed. A pool of red blood formed around the head.

There were so many things Ben wanted to say to this alien who claimed to be a prince. But one, he couldn’t waste time. Two, he couldn’t talk anyway. He didn’t know how, using his present body. So he grabbed the rain-and-blood-soaked World’s Fair T-shirt with his tiny hands. He shook it as fiercely as a baby could.

The alien prince looked up with Ben’s own eyes. That felt strange, to stare into his own eyes and find a different soul living in there.

Give me back my body! Ben wanted to say. You don’t know how to use it, and you can’t fit in your saucer anyway as long as you’re this lanky!

The alien prince couldn’t possibly have heard the exact words of Ben’s thoughts. But it understood the meaning of the stare. Some things in life didn’t require words. And some non-word things could be communicated even between advanced and backward lifeforms—even across higher and lower planes.

But fear appeared in the eyes of the alien prince. Baby Ben cried in frustration.

Okay, fine. I promise I’ll bring you to your stupid saucer. Just give me back my body!!!

The alien prince nodded minutely. Because it couldn’t move its head, it rolled its eyeballs to see where the saucers were. They still floated above the park, shooting attack rays. The sky had turned gold and blue.

Then the chatter of humans approached. Older humans. Grannies and grandpas who’d come to the park for their morning exercise.

Alarmed, the alien prince grabbed Baby Ben’s arm. Baby Ben looked it in the eyes.

Two beams shot out, entering the baby’s body through the eyes.

Ben felt a wave of pain. He could feel blood on the back of his head. He cleared his throat. It felt as if he hadn’t been breathing in the other body at all. He coughed. His lungs welcomed the fresh air. He raised his arms—gave up with a groan. Somewhere, they were broken.

<Take me to the ship take me to the ship take me now take me to the ship!>

Baby Blue mewled in its blue-scale body. The chatter of the park visitors stopped.

“What was that?” someone said.

<Hurry hurry hurry hurry!>

“God damn you little… asshole, you…” Ben said.

But he got up. He suppressed a scream. Putting weight on his legs caused extreme pain. But he had to get close to the saucer somehow. If his legs were already broken, things couldn’t get any worse anyway, could they?

Could they?

He grabbed Baby Blue—and almost dropped it. It was so cold, so heavy. Why supposed advanced lifeforms inhabiting the higher plane hadn’t managed to be warm and feather-light was totally beyond Ben. Who cared about the nice laundry smell? Seriously, who cared?

Ben stumbled toward the saucers. One of them noticed, it seemed. It jerked in its place. Whether it was the one from the enemy or the one from Baby Blue’s kind, Ben couldn’t tell.

<Yes, that’s them that’s them!>

Baby Blue didn’t rely on visuals to recognize its kind. If it said it was them, it had to be them.

Ben raised Baby Blue up at the sky, as best as he could with his injured arms, like a worshipper sacrificing his baby.

A thick blue beam shot out. The air vibrated. Baby Blue was pulled from Ben’s hands. It laughed in delight. And even though Ben knew that the thing inside that baby body was no infant, the laughter uplifted his mood and relieved him greatly.

<On behalf of my kind, I thank you, human! You will be rewarded. Bless you! Bless your sons and daughters for generations to come!>

Baby Blue moved its little arms as if it were scattering invisible flower petals. Then the beam sucked in Baby Blue.

In the next second, the air shook in a blast. Ben flew back.

When he opened his eyes, the sky was clear. The sun had fully risen. Birds twittered. Some blood had dried on the minor scratches on his arms and legs. Other, bigger wounds still bled. The ground felt wet against his clothes and fingers. The laundry smell still lingered. And finally, with a chance to take deep breaths, Ben could taste his own dry tongue, sitting awkwardly in his mouth.

“Ah…” he said. And with relief, he noticed he sounded like himself.

Abruptly, faces appeared above him. Healthy grandmas and grandpas, who probably visited this park every morning, were gazing down at the incredible anomaly that was Ben.

“Hey, young fellow,” one gentleman said in Korean. “You all right?”

“Yes, you all right?”

Each in the bunch of them noisily chimed in. Soon, all Ben could hear was All right? All right? And then Right? Right? Right?

“You understand what we’re talking about?”

“Of course he understands. What could we possibly be asking him besides if he’s all right?”

Ben laughed. Everyone jerked back.

“Seems he’s all right.”

“I’m fine,” Ben said. “I will be fine. If you could call an ambulance, please?”

“Oh, of course, of course.” One of the grannies stepped away from the crowd to make the call.

And for the next five minutes, until the ambulance arrived, none of the grannies and grandpas left Ben’s side. This moment was to go down in their history as that one weird morning when they’d encountered an attacked alien in the park. Less exciting than an alien attack, but exciting enough nonetheless.

© 2022 Ithaka O.

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This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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