"Mom, I'm home," I shouted. "I've brought a visitor. It's a boy." From somewhere upstairs I heard a welcoming yell. "Can I get you some juice or something?" I asked Rann, who was looking around with great interest.
"Sure. Thanks." He was obviously fascinated to see what an Earth home looked like.
"Is it very different from yours?" I asked curiously.
"Actually, no," he said to my surprise. "That's what's so interesting."
Just then there was a clatter on the steps. I'd had a feeling my mother couldn't resist seeing who I might have brought home. Although I'd had a few girlfriends over the years, one of them very close, I hadn't brought any boys to the house.
I could tell Rann was intrigued by the apparition that materialized a moment later on the stairwell. I love my mother more than anyone, but she is a little--well, eccentric. To be quite honest, I think she inhaled too much of the seventies while she was there. Draped in a large, loose flowing dress made up of most of the colors of the rainbow, she practically billowed her way to the bottom, the various stones and gems draped around her neck glinting in all directions. Sandals and two copper wrist bands completed the picture.
I knew the meanings of every one of the stones, too; after all, I'd hunted up a number of them for her out in the desert or in Utah rock shops. There was selenite, which was supposed to provide energy; beryl, to prevent psychic tampering (something useful in a state plagued with telephone solicitors, I suppose); and of course the ubiquitous quartz crystals, which are apparently supposed to do just about everything except take out the trash. And the copper bracelets were worn to attract love (copper being a "metal of Venus"), something she hadn't been very successful at since divorcing my father a year and a half ago.
I'm not sure exactly why not, since my mother is actually a very attractive woman, one who doesn't come close to looking her age (forty-four). She has very pretty reddish hair, which she lets flow down her back (almost all the way to her butt, in fact) when she's not doing housework or yard work, at which times it transforms into a nicely braided pigtail. She also avoids cosmetics entirely, mostly because her very fair, almost pinkish skin is hypersensitive to them (a legacy of her half-Irish background, I think).
"This is Rann, Mother," I said as she looked him up and down appraisingly. "Rann, this is my mother, Jennifer Larkin."
"What a nice-looking boy," she decided, adding, "I love your ponytail," as Rann blushed. "So where are you from?"
"He's from outer space, Mother," I interjected. I didn't want to know what kind of story Rann might have felt obliged to concoct, and in my mother's case the truth was far safer.
"Really?" she said, her eyes widening. "Would that be Saturn, by any chance?" She had a special thing for Saturn; it had something to do with a book she'd read once.
"No, I'm afraid it would be Deshtiris, Ma'am," Rann responded respectfully, to her evident disappointment.
"That's near Saturn, isn't it?" she suggested hopefully.
"Just on the other side," I said hastily. "Mom, Rann is stuck here in town. His spaceship broke down out in the desert and he won't be able to get it fixed for a while. I wondered if he could stay with us in the meantime. We could put him in the spare bedroom." That had been my father's study; as soon as the divorce had been finalized and he'd moved out we'd transformed it as thoroughly as possible. Today you'd never guess that a spiritual descendent of Adolf Hitler had lived there for several years.
"I suppose that would be all right," she said brightly. "Does he have any things with him?"
"It's a long story," I said. "I have the rocks you asked me to look for," I added, unzipping one of the duffels and pulling out a few stones which I handed to her. "I found two pieces of obsidian and a chunk of chalcedony. Will that do?" She swirled happily off to the kitchen with them, returning a few minutes later with the glasses of juice I'd promised.
"We'll need to do some shopping," I explained to Rann. "You know, socks, spare underwear, that kind of stuff. I know--you go take a nice long bath and I'll run your stuff through the washer. And while it's washing I'll hop over to the store and pick up a few things." He looked embarrassed at that.
"I really hate to put you to so much trouble," he said apologetically. I was about to open my mouth when my mother burst in insisting that of course it wasn't and we'd be delighted to have him here. There are times when I'm awfully glad I have the mother I do; I don't know how many of my schoolmates' parents would have nonchalantly allowed their daughter to bring home a strange boy and put him up in a spare bedroom for an unspecified amount of time.
As we headed up the stairs to his room, he whispered to me, "Before we get too involved in settling in, is there any chance I could send that email we talked about?" So we changed course and headed for my room instead.
"This is my computer," I announced proudly. It was actually a pretty classy setup (I don't spend my money on clothes and CDs like most of the other kids my age; instead I've been putting it into this for the past few years), with a scanner, two printers, DVD-ROM drive and a 17-inch LCD monitor.
"What do you think?" I said proudly. For several seconds he was silent. "It's so--big," he finally blurted out, clearly embarassed. Feeling rather deflated, I booted up and started an Internet connection.
"It's all ready," I growled. He briefly puzzled over the keyboard, apparently familiarizing himself with the layout of the keys, and when he did start typing, it was pretty much hunt-and-peck.
He grinned. "That's right. This'll bounce back to you within a few minutes with a 'no DNS entry for host' message."
"So what's the point?" I insisted. This was getting interesting.
He thought intently for a moment. "Let me see if I understand how this works well enough to explain it. There's some kind of box that the message goes through that translates the 'rp.gov.dt' into a numeric Internet address."
"That's a DNS server," I said helpfully.
"Whatever," he agreed. "Anyway, normally it wouldn't find an entry anywhere for 'rp.gov.dt' so it would bounce your message back. But there's a hidden program that's automatically installed onto every DNS server the first time it connects to the Internet that intercepts any messages with a 'dt' suffix and gives them an address that's not supposed to exist."
A Trojan Horse. Cool. "Go on," I said, by now thoroughly engrossed.
"Well, eventually it reaches an actual machine with that address. That machine rejects the message and returns an error, saying there's no such domain as 'rp.gov.dt'."
"Huh? What's the point of that?"
"Well, in order to reach that machine, the message has to be routed via several communications satellites that handle most of Earth's Internet traffic. There's a gadget on the moon that picks up all your satellite transmissions and relays them on to Deshtiris. Once there, any messages for 'dt' get sent to the proper place." He took a deep breath. "So how was that?"
"Bravo," I said. "That was the silliest thing I ever heard in my life." I heard a beep from my terminal program, indicating that I'd received a message. It was an automatically generated message from my Internet provider, informing me that my last email had bounced. "No DNS entry for host rp.gov.dt," it read. He grinned again. "See?"
"See what?" I sniffed. "Your message bounced with an invalid address, just like I said it would." He sighed patiently.
"Well, we'll see. Meanwhile, do you think I could take that bath?"
It took some doing to figure out how we were going to arrange for him to take a bath and me launder his clothes at the same time. I finally located a nightshirt long enough for him to wear in the meantime.
"Now empty your pockets," I ordered, getting a startled look in return. "So I can wash your clothes," I explained. With a shrug, he deposited some ordinary U.S. coins and an odd object onto the dresser.
"What's that?" I asked curiously. "It looks like a vibrator." It was a cylinder of clear plastic, rounded on both ends, with some miniaturized gadgetry inside.
"What's a vibrator?" he asked, puzzled. I told him, and had the satisfaction of seeing him blush a deep crimson. "No, it's nothing like that," he stammered, obviously flustered. "It's--"
"Never mind," I said with a contented grin, handing him the nightshirt and leading him to the bathroom. "Now toss your clothes outside the door and I'll wash them while you take your bath." A few minutes later I threw his clothes into the washer as I heard him happily settling into the hot water.
When I got back to my room there was another message in my inbox. With a start I saw that the return address was email@example.com and that the subject line read "Re: Help! I'm stranded." I suppose I shouldn't have read it, but after all it was my email account.
I knocked on the bathroom door. "Rann," I said as nonchalantly as I could, "you have mail."
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|