Leeland Davis shouldered his hunting rifle and looked up at the gibbous moon hanging high over the mountains. In two days a Crow Moon would rise full and ominous over the same mountains, and it would be time to get seeds gathered, tools fixed and plans made. Thirty days from now the Seed Moon would rise and it would be time to plant.
The newcomers didn’t understand the difference. They said that the moon was always the same, a statement that Leeland found inexplicable. Does a Thunder Moon rise over glittering snow? Would you plant seed under a Hunter’s Moon?
The newcomers said they visited the Moon on the way to this place. They say they came from far beyond the Moon, beyond the Sun even. Leeland was prepared to accept that, they certainly didn’t look human. He climbed back into his pickup and started up the engine, then waited for the heat to kick in and warm his hands so he could grip the steering wheel. He hadn’t really expected to shoot anything on this trip; the game had all migrated since the newcomers arrived.
Really, nothing had been the same since they landed in his fields. He found them standing outside their crashed ship, now little more than a hole in his corn, nearly-molten metal in the center of hole.
“Please,” said the one standing in front of the other two, and the word appeared in his brain without passing by his ears. Like the voice of an angel. And even as Leeland stopped and walked towards the newcomers one of the three fell and collapsed in on himself, never to move again. Leeland helped the other two to his house, gave them the entire upstairs; he didn’t need it, now that his sons had moved out. And for a few days they were quite grateful. They found his food odd but it kept them alive and made them healthy and they were grateful. They found his bedrooms quaint, but they were warm and safe and they were grateful. They weren’t always happy about what seemed to them to be neolithic conditions, but they were grateful.
“What is this place?” Deloi asked.
“Minnesota,” said Leeland, out loud.
“No, what planet is it?” Intoris. “Earth,” He replied. They laughed. Or rather, the feeling of laughter flooded briefly through Leeland’s mind.
“That word simply means ‘the planet where I live’. Everyone calls their home world that,” said Deloi. “What do you call this place when you speak to people from other planets?”
“We haven’t met any people from other planets,” Leeland answered. This time the feeling was one of blank incomprehension.
“Why not?” Asked Intoris. “They are everywhere. The Slorians have a trading post in your solar system. Two shipping lanes pass through this system. How is it you have never met anyone else? And if you haven’t, why weren’t you more surprised when you met us?”
Leeland didn’t know. He was a farmer. Maybe someone else had met people from other worlds, he said.
“Why do you call us all aliens?” Asked Intoris.
“I didn’t,” Said Leeland.
“Not with your breath, but in your thought.”
“I guess it’s just a useful word to refer to anyone who isn’t from here,” Leeland finally said.
“But the vast majority of people aren’t from here. And the moment you leave this planet you yourself are an alien.”
“I haven’t ever left the planet, I probably won’t ever leave the planet, and the vast majority of people I’ve ever met are from here. So from my point of view the name is appropriate.” Leeland countered. Deloi laughed. “He’s got you there, Intoris.”
The engine sputtered and rattled as Leeland pushed the pickup into gear and started off towards home. Intoris had tried to explain what it was about him and his friend that was spooking the game, but the concept didn’t really translate. “Some minds don’t like being touched,” Intoris said, and left it at that.
They had plenty of meat, and plenty of money for food; the newcomers didn’t eat all that much. But sometimes Leeland liked getting out of the house, out of that hazy range where he could feel the newcomers’ minds in his. Leeland Davis was well regarded in town as someone who didn’t lie or keep secrets, but a man has to feel safe in his own head if nowhere else. Besides, they weren’t all that careful in their communications and Leeland had started overhearing things.
They had been close-lipped –or is that close-minded?– about where they were from, and Leeland hadn’t pushed too hard. It was unlikely he would have understood anyway. At first the ideas that they used as language were hard to understand, and most of what he got from them was either vague impressions, like laughter, or just…static, nothingness. Something was transmitted, but he wasn’t wired to receive it.
In time, however, he started to learn the language and more and more of their thoughts were open to him. And a few times he heard very unsavory words, like “criminal”, “captured”, and “prison” in their thoughts back and forth.
As he got used to them their personalities became more distinct as well. Deloi was more gregarious, quicker to “laugh”, more accepting of earth food and customs; he’d even started wearing human clothing. Leeland had given Deloi some overalls that had belonged to Sten, Leeland’s oldest son. They didn’t really fit, but since they didn’t have sleeves all four of Deloi’s arms could be accommodated. It was all Leeland could do not to laugh at the sight.
Intoris refused to bend that far. He still wore his somewhat tattered but still quite impressive garb he had arrived in. To Leeland it looked like a specially tailored jumpsuit; all one piece with a curious closure down the front. It was cream colored, and the ash and soot from their arrival fell off of it almost immediately, before they even got into the pickup truck, that first night. It had two bands of iridescent color running in a loop over the top of Intoris’ top shoulders down to his hips. The one on the left was purple, the one on the right was an inexplicable shade of reddish orange.
Leeland noticed something wrong the moment he arrived home. The newcomers hated television–they said the lights from the screen were wrong, and it flickered in a way that hurt their eyes–but they loved the radio, and played it almost constantly. Tonight however it was silent.
He could feel their minds as he drove up, and when he was in the house he could hear traces of a conversation in that “static” of the language he couldn’t understand. Irrelevantly he remembered when he and his wife had used “college words” to talk over the children’s heads, and he realized that was what the newcomers were doing. Small bits of meaning floated by; things like “may as well…alone…they won’t…already paid…” and in the rush it was nearly impossible to identify which phrases were coming from which mind. In any event, all of it ceased when he walked through the kitchen door.
“I’m home” he announced out loud, although of course they already knew that. Deloi appeared suddenly in the doorway of the kitchen. “I am sorry you were unable to procure game,” he said and sat casually at the table. Newcomer or not, the gesture was familiar. Deloi couldn’t have been more transparent if he had been Joel Jorgenson from next door, pretending he hadn’t broken the window with his baseball. Intoris came down the stairs a moment later, and without a “word” turned on the radio and sat in the living room.
The three of them spent an uncomfortable half hour until Deloi suddenly stood and announced that he was going for a walk. With significant look at Interis he walked out the back door into the night. For the first time, Leeland felt Interis’ mind without Deloi’s on top of it.
“Leeland,” Interis said, and Leeland realized it was the first time either of them had used his name. “We must converse.”
And all at once Interis dumped the entirety of what had happened to him and his companion on their host.
Interis was what he called a “Keeper”, but what Leeland would have called a cop. Deloi and the newcomer who had died were prisoners, being transported from the world where they had been captured to the world where they would be incarcerated. Interis was the one who was supposed to transport them.
Except that wasn’t what happened. The ship had been taken from Interis’ control as they entered the Sol system, and had been driven to crash on the nearest possible world. The flight program had been set before they left. There was no escape. Interis wasn’t meant to survive. He realized, as they were going down, that this was why being a Keeper assigned to the incarceration world was a permanent assignment.
Oddly, Interis didn’t betray any anger or resentment over the callous nature of his attempted murder. He seemed to feel that one innocent life was a fair price for complete security from two criminals.
Leeland asked if Deloi was dangerous and Interis laughed. Deloi’s crime had been laughing in the middle of an artistic performance, disturbing the artists and irritating the local magistrate. Leeland asked if this was honestly a crime that deserved death and Interis seemed shocked by the question. Of course it was.
“However,” Interis said, “Since arriving here, we both feel a need to stay alive. Your planet, it is rest. We are not distracted every moment by people wishing to talk to us. We are not distracted by presentations of art. We both feel that we are free to focus. It is a freedom that we do not now wish to be without.”
And therein was the problem. When the ship crashed but before it exploded Interis had reported their location and that they had survived the crash. Through means unintelligible to Leeland they were now aware that another ship was coming with a single passenger. This newcomer would inspect the crash site and then likely take the other two prisoner, then all three of them would crash into the moon.
“If Deloi is destroyed, I will return to the force. If the ship the new Keeper arrives in is disabled, it will likely self-destruct, and the three of us will be on this world permanently. But to do so would be against the governing laws I am to abide by. I cannot do either of these things. Will you, Leeland, Please, will you adjudicate this situation for me?”
Leeland sat back. So that was it. Kill a…a person and two go back to a job they apparently enjoy, strand a third person on earth against their will, or do nothing and all three die on the moon.
Two nights later, the Crow Moon hanging in the sky, Leeland sat with his rifle looking out the uppermost window of his house. he watched a ship land in his cornfield, looking like a scientist’s dream. He watched a third newcomer step out, wearing a uniform that looked a lot like Interis’ own garb. He watched the three of them stand in a wary triangle. He heard the very edges of their thoughts. And he pulled the trigger.
It didn’t take long for Gaelon to adjust to life on earth. The three newcomers fell into the habit of reading and meditating during the day, and one month later, under a bright Seed Moon, the four of them went out to plant the cornfield, just as Leeland had done before his sons had moved away.
Author’s note: This story came from some writing prompts and a list of moon names in the back of a Field Notes notebook. With some work it might end up being something interesting.