My alien girlfriend and I lay side by side on a giant Victoria Water Lily thing in an indoor lake, staring up at the starry night sky.
"What do you think of Bencap?" she asked.
I thought about it, but couldn't quite come up with an answer. Bencap was the kind of city I'd always dreamed of visiting ever since I was a kid watching Star Wars, but not everything was that fun.
To make a long story short, I'm an engineer who used to live in a little town called Cole Camp. An alien spaceship crash landed in the woods a few miles from my house, and I helped the alien get home by jury rigging about $800 worth of parts from electronics stores into his busted up ship. As a way of saying thank you, he took me on a little vacation to the planet Pathilon.
The dominant lifeform, of course, was Abreya. Their faces looked human, but the shapes of their noses and ears and so forth had definite animal forms to them, the ones from the north having a sort of mousey appearance, guinea pig faced ones from the far east, westerners reminding me of horses, and Abreyas from southern countries had beaks. Fur covered just about every inch of their bodies except for their heads, hands, feet and tails.
The country emblem and sometimes the symbols of foreign nations hung from numerous posts and balconies. Plant boxes displayed a fascinating array of multicolored plants, tulip-geranium hybrids, roses that resembled mums growing from anemone stalks, a lot of the stuff moved independently of the wind, leaves appearing to have motor function. Some of them had blinking eyes. Don't know what biological function all of that served, maybe catching insects?
Okay, so the place looked pretty darn cool, and I was super excited, but my kid-in-a-candy-store look wore off after the first couple weeks. I thought, at first, I was merely sick of being on an alien planet, but no, it was Bencap. I've since been to the rural areas, so I know I often positively hate the city in specific.
The city was crazy as Tokyo and New York City put together. You couldn't walk a foot without accidentally bumping into someone, or their pet lop eared velociraptor things. The air, although smog free, carried a lot of weird, somewhat unpleasant smells, like whiffs of melted plastic and skunk. It also bore a din of noise: I wouldn't have minded the weird sounds of the non-intelligent life forms on the ground, skies and trees, but you also had foreign language jabbering, sometimes shouted, Pathilon's irritating equivalent of music, and machine noises.
Qighurl Wusu, squirrel sized caterpillar things with crab pincers and legs scampered all over the place. They'd steal bits of food while you're eating, you'd hear them scurrying around in the walls...Nobody hunted them because they didn't have enough meat on them for a decent entree. You had to rely on Llakmib, pets which seem to be nothing but hair and teeth. The aliens had a thing against traps and poison for some reason. They were cute, but also annoying.
I got a lot of stares. At first I felt indifferent to it, too busy taking in the sights to notice it much, but after a few days I felt like saying, "What are you looking at, asshole?"
My friend lived in Somyike District, which looks like a huge shopping mall designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller. The roads spiraled around huge trees twice and sometimes three times the size of California redwoods, roads jam packed with modern buildings. So, yeah, the little kid in me was jumping up and down.
As a tail-less human being, though, I found the heights alarming, especially when my alien friend took me to his place near the canopy of a tree. It took what seemed like forever just to get up there, all the winding around and trying not to collide with the multitude of easterners prevalent in that neighborhood. Twice I nearly got trampled by someone's scaly mount, and had a near miss with a flying vehicle. Note: No sidewalks.
Ewrenaj stayed in a room above a pet supply store, and a vendor of strong smelling herbal shit. Next door to those we had an eating establishment and a whole store devoted to commentaries on the Gaxea and other religious texts. Also, merchants sat on rugs outside of these places hawking their goods. They liked to trip you with their tails and pitch merchandise to you. I've heard stories about some even slipping items into your pocket in order to accuse you of shoplifting.
I suppose you could describe Ewrenaj's place as an apartment, but it's not the same thing. You don't have much in the way of privacy. You slept in pods along the walls, kind of like bunk beds. I stored my valuables in a safe that opened to my palm print. They got bathrooms, but everyone just changed clothing in front of each other like it's no big deal. Even when they had clothing on, it tended to be on the short side and not covering very much, on account of the fur.
Our shared dining table was on the floor like some Chinese house. We all took turns cooking on a cordless hot plate thing (which could actually fry a whole chicken if you wanted to), and ate from a shared serving dish, family style, but these roomies weren't related. I kinda enjoyed myself. It really did feel like a family dinner at times.
After I had my turn at cooking, no one wanted me to try it again. I guess everyone's a critic, even aliens that eat something suspiciously like cat food.
We had an entertainment device that showed holographic movies, but they were all in a foreign language called Wava, and aliens had different ideas about dramatic conflict and pacing, so you wouldn't want to watch unless you were in need of sleep. That being said, their music often tended toward the disharmonious side, making even a romantic program sound like a creepy slasher film.
I thought the nudity and sex could have been censored a tad, but I rarely saw it being used to titillate. It was more like French drama. "Nothing unusual to see here, just a four nippled alien trying to make a baby."
Somehow they did all this commercial free. Honestly, I'm not sure how their advertising system worked, or how the programs got paid for. I don't think they went the route of Disney Plus.
Speaking of sex, at least once a week I heard moaning, churring and clucking noises on the other side of my wall. Each time has been the occasion of lost sleep, and me kneeling at the breakfast table with bloodshot eyes.
For five of those times, I would sit on the balcony for an hour or two until they finished up. Twice I went on walks and ended up getting locked out of my room until dawn. I eventually resorted to taking Benadryl to knock me out, though that often backfired because I'd wake up an hour early to take a piss.
One time I ran into the female partner who had been making all that noise. When I looked into her goat-like eyes, she seemed to know what I knew, and quickly retreated into her dwelling.
My buddy Ewrenaj got called away on business a couple days after I settled in, leaving me with strangers who knew nothing of the English language. He'd only pop back in periodically after that. He kept promising to take me back home, but didn't seem to be making any progress on that end.
I guess I could have pestered him a bit more about the whole thing, but I was afraid he'd get tired of me constantly asking and say no flat out. Also, I didn't exactly despise the place. It was like being sick of Disney World. Although homesick, you still want to see all the fun stuff before you leave.
Despite being surrounded by intelligent beings, I felt the complete loneliness an American would feel on a solo visit to, well, Seoul.
My roommates were nice enough, though. They let me stay at their place, and let me in during the day because I didn't yet have a key (They thought it weird that I knocked instead of making mewling noises at the talking tube), but we didn't have that much in common. I couldn't really hold a conversation with anyone. It was like I was back in highschool, sitting at a table by myself in the cafeteria. In Ewrenaj's absence, they tended to talk around me.
I guess it wasn't all bad. My roommates at least said Dusaq and wagged their tails to greet me. They still shared their food with me, respected my space, and I always did dream of hanging out with space aliens. One of them even barked in their sleep, which rather amused me.
In fact, one female, with a coat speckled like a cheetah, I found especially cute. I think she kinda liked me, but the signals weren't very clear. Sometimes she'd sit really close to me during meals and sneak her tail around my waist, or teasingly brush my face with its fuzzy tip, or she'd catch me staring at her while she changed, and she'd smirk at me. But at other times, she'd ignore me and kiss this brown coated male she talked to a lot.
The thing I hate most about big cities is getting lost. Out of boredom, I did a lot of walking and wandering around Bencap, and I kept wandering up avenues that only seemed, at first glance, to be the right way back to my room. The businesses, the residences, the trees, everything looked the same, and they didn't have street signs.
Juvlilu is kind of like a McDonald's to Abreyas. Alien food franchise, sorry, no hamburgers. They're super popular, you can find one every five blocks or so, naphthalene odors of its food wafting into my nostrils around every corner. I learned not to use them as a landmark the first couple times I got lost. That, and the Nokhadu package delivery outposts, the public gymnasiums, and the Repxako mini grocery shops.
Frequently noticing the sky being darkened by winged shapes, I looked up and saw Grunkiahu, huge horse sized turkey-like beasts that the aliens rode through the skies. I thought these were awesome until one of them took a shit on my head. I not only had to shower, I had to completely launder the white goop off my clothing, and the stale-bagel-and-cattle-manure scent wouldn't go away until I soaked everything in fruit juice. I afterwards learned to keep an emergency supply of the stuff and to stay underneath roofs and branches to avoid further incidents.
As much as I hate Bencap's maze-like sprawl, I wouldn't have stumbled upon my present career, had I not gotten lost in the nearby Unhibla District.
I'd just wandered around the corner, and stopped at a Juvlilu after discovering that I once again couldn't find my way back. As I knelt at one of their low tables, eating some chemical smelling fish thing, I noticed a male rooting around in the engine compartment of a grounded vehicle.
I got up and took a look at the system. It had quite a few similarities to my friend's ship. "What seems to be the matter?" I asked the stranger in Wava.
He stared at me for a moment. It wasn't every day an Abreya saw a creature like me. "It looks like I need a new Ligald Unit."
I pushed buttons on the compartment lid, flipping through the digital manual. The diagnostic tool confirmed his assessment. "Got any of those handy?"
The stranger laughed. "This is an old model. I'd have to order it and wait for delivery." He let out a heavy sigh. "I don't have time for this. My nennop is having a medical emergency."
Abreyas frequently have a eunuch relationship counselor living with them. It helps resolve a lot of marriage problems, works out psychological issues. The one I saw in the back seat sat gasping with its face flushed green. Looked like it were having a heart attack.
Lucky for him, I knew the function of the Ligald Unit. It served as a pressure valve, controlled the flow of power so the system didn't overload. They used a part almost identical to it in the restaurant's air fryer thing, I'd just have to bypass one of the valves to control the heat output. That's why the Juvlilu on Rubdavi street has specials on Aznetva, a sushi dish similar to Ceviche.
The guy took off the moment we got his vehicle flying again. I thought nothing of it until a week later when someone interrupted my breakfast to show me another Weesnax model, this one with clouds of black smoke billowing out the exhaust ports.
I soon gained a reputation for fixing stuff. Ewrenaj didn't know I had a side business going until I got invited to the Brexerta Zesikbo, a ranch for those big turkey birds, an honor reserved for the most well-to-do Abreyas, or Abreyas that help the owner when his vehicle breaks down.
The place stood on the outskirts of Bencap, the whole structure in the trees a good thousand feet off the ground. It resembled a flying saucer, but the building was completely stationary, and it had gates for the big birds to go in and out. A huge cage had been constructed over the leafy canopy to keep them from flying away.
Inside the gate, the owner had me put on a Gicrox Patagia, an armored wing suit thing that protected you from the birds when they roughhoused, and protected you from the ground when they threw you off their backs. He didn't give me anything for the clouds of dust they kept kicking up as they sparred with each other.
The creatures perked their wide pig ears at my approach, beady cat eyes bulging in surprise. Wings ruffled and flapped, turkey wattles jiggled like Don Knotts' adam's apple. A lot of them had been grazing before I arrived, stuffing something like dried palm branches into their mouths with baby elephant trunks, but I'd gotten them spooked.
I tried to explain that I was afraid of heights, but Mister Rubdadi only made me practice gliding with my Abreya wingsuit, and ride a sort of mechanical bull that takes you a few feet in the air.
Although dissatisfied with the results, especially since I couldn't use the tail operated rudder on my gliding cape, Rubdadi immediately introduced me to Baconno (I didn't make that up), probably the wildest female in the whole stable.
Her feathers were oily black like a starling, her eyes a scary red. I'm surprised she even let Rubdadi saddle her.
He helped me up into a sort of motorcycle seat designed to go on horse sized winged animals, handed me the electric prod used to control the thing, and slapped the Grunk on its dinosaur tail.
Baconno mooed and shot up like a rocket.
In all fairness to Rubdadi, I used to go to bars and ride the mechanical bulls quite often. I think that made him a teensy bit overconfident in my Grunk riding abilities.
Baconno, in a desperate move to dislodge me from her back, flew right under a tree branch.
Although within a giant cage, the branch hadn't been exactly close to the ground, and I had no safety restraints. Yes, I had a wingsuit, but it got caught on something and ripped.
I'm not sure of all the details, but I know I ended up on the ground with a broken arm, cracked ribs, fractured pelvis, and a shattered femur.
So, obviously a whole lot of pain.
Blankets got thrown over me, Rubdadi called for Kenbenk, the emergency response agents.
Abreyas handle emergency situations a little differently than they do on earth. Kenbenk literally means "field medicine." When their flying vehicle arrived at Brexerta Zesikbo, they did a deep sonar scan of my whole body, set up a dome tent around me, and used a foaming substance to create a sterile floor beneath my body without moving me any.
They reset my bones right there, used a different foaming substance to make a cast around my broken limbs. Although they had to laser through my clothes to fix things, they also had a speedy tool that could sow fabric back up so perfectly that you couldn't tell it had been cut. My leg cast, being thin but tough as a three inch plaster one, fit perfectly inside the leg of my jeans. It sure beat the hell out of anything on earth.
Of course, they still didn't want me moving around until I'd healed. My ribs and pelvis had to be suspended with magnetic fields or something for awhile, so they made that plaster cast thing beneath me levitate, floating it into their emergency vehicle.
Somewhere along the line, I blacked out. When I woke up, I found the face of a goat eyed easterner smiling at me. Female, and very cute.
"Awake at last! I suppose you won't be doing that again!"
I chuckled, but winced when it hurt my ribs. "No ma'am. I've learned my lesson. I'm never riding one of those again."
"Foqipi..." A term of endearment used to describe a child, or someone childish. "I wouldn't give up so easily. You just need someone to give you lessons."
I raised an eyebrow. "Like...you?"
Her face flushed green with embarrassment. "I didn't specifically indicate myself..."
"Actually, you kinda did."
And now, fully recovered, I was cuddling with her on a giant lily pad, after a romantic dinner in a fancy gejzol restaurant. "Bencap's a weird place, but I love it."