Byron Davis continued to walk, eyes forward, mental blinders on. If he ever thought about it, he would have called it his “urban defensive mode”. He saw obstacles to avoid and heard noises as warnings, just the bare minimum needed to navigate without running into things. He didn’t see or hear individual people above the static. A person was a distraction. They were “things”. It was his way to survive the crowds.
“Byron Davis! It is you.”
The half familiar voice cut through his defenses, his name being recognized and thus the voice flagged as “important”, or at least “something over the background din”.
A young man approached him. The man was dirty.
“Do I know you?” Byron curled his nose, drawing his mouth into a slight snare.
“Are you telling me that you don’t recognize your own brother?” The man half laughed.
“I don’t have a brother.”
He turned to walk away, but a hand come down on his shoulder, stopping him.
“Sure you do. Derrick. Remember?”
Byron turned, his face burning. Who was this idiot, disturbing him like this?
“Derrick died almost 30 years ago. Quit bothering me. I won’t give you any money or whatever in Hell it is that you want.”
“’Disappeared’ and ‘died’ are two very different things,” the man said. “You last heard from me on October 2, 1991. Or Mom did. I think I last talked to you in late August. You were complaining about Michelle. After all of those years she was drifting away from you. Or some such sob story. Are you still with Michelle? Can’t see how, but….”
“Michelle?” Byron hadn’t thought of Michelle Williamson in years, even decades. She was the love of his life from the time he was a senior in high school through the beginning of their junior year in college. When was that? Oh yes, they broke up in September or October of 1991.
Who would know about Michelle?
He looked into the man’s eyes. They were very familiar. He saw such eyes in the mirror every morning. But they weren’t his eyes, but the eyes of someone else, close, the eyes of…
The man smiled. No, not “the man”, it was Derrick who smiled. It was him.
Byron had always looked up to his older brother, but knew from a young age that there were problems. Derrick was the type that seemed to sabotage himself if he got too close to being successful. He had dropped out of college after his sophomore year and drifted aimless for a while. Finally, at what was, to the 19-year-old Byron, the ripe old age of 25, Derrick stabilized and got a grasp on life. For a year everything went well. A job, a mother-approved girlfriend, a nice apartmnet, he was at the top of the world.
And then he seemed to have dropped off of the face of the Earth.
Gone. Vanished without a trace or forwarding address. Just like that, poof.
Looking back on his older brother in later years, Byron always assumed that Derrick had an undiagnosed mental illness. He fit the classic patterns.
After being gone for a few years it was easier to believe Derrick was dead than a mentally ill bum someplace out on the street. A few years later without a word and he was sure about it. After several more years it was easiest to believe that he never had an older brother.
Derrick never existed.
He never even told Celeste that he had a brother.
But there he was, his older brother Derrick, sitting across the dinning room table, eating as if he had never seen food and looking exactly as Byron remembered. Exactly.
Byron cleared his throat causing Derrick to look up.
“Tell me, why you look so young?”
Derrick put down his fork. His shoulders drooped slightly, as with a sigh.
“OK, I’ll try again, but perhaps a little simpler. I’ve spent most of the time away traveling at a very large fraction of the speed of light. To me these last, what is it, 28 years, have seemed more like two. There were several months on a distant world and four months here before I found you, the rest of it was zipping through space trying to catch up to the photons.”
“It doesn’t make sense.”
This time Derrick’s sigh was audible.
“Look, I don’t know Relativity any better than you, but this is one of those things that they talk about even on kid’s shows.”
Byron puffed up slightly.
“Besides the time dilation thingy or whatever you called it, this whole ‘being abducted by aliens’ crap doesn’t make sense. And you aren’t making it easier by your ‘I never met an alien’ or whatever.”
“As I said, the aliens have been taking humans for hundreds, more like thousands of years. They have a large human colony. All interactions with humans on Earth are with other humans, but from the stars, from that colony. Occasionally they abduct random people, you know, so the genetic diversity of their colony is increased….”
Byron could only describe Derrick’s stare as “defiant”. He understood that his welcome was a little less than warm and that he’d been grilling his brother nonstop since they returned home. But still, Derrick’s story was just so incredible. Derrick was mentally ill, wasn’t he? This entire abduction thing had to be in his head, a delusion.
“So they captured you,” he stopped and pointed, “you? To be a sex slave? Seems unlikely…”
He leaned back in his chair, arms crossed.
“No. It was expected that I would meet a woman, fall in love and all of that, just like here. Unfortunately, I had to do a bunch of testing first.” He took a drink and then looked at Byron. Byron squirmed a little under the gaze. “They said that I was too unstable and they wanted to have me do learn more about them through work, acclimate me, before letting me join in their society. As it was, I wouldn’t fit in. That’s me, very unstable.” He laughed, a sound that Byron found very uncomfortable.
Byron tried to laugh as well, but it felt forced. “So, they toss all of the unstable people on a starship where they can do the most amount of harm?”
Derrick shrugged. “Something like that. They trained me, gave me work to do, some slight responsibility, but didn’t let me touch anything that could cause harm. I talked my way into being part of the last landing party, which luckily was in the US, so…”
“And they let you walk away, just like that…”
Derrick gave Byron his squirm inducing gaze again. “Pretty much. It wasn’t the landing party’s job to restrain me. But I was told that I would be caught sooner or later. If the agents on Earth even thought I would tell anyone, it would be sooner than later.” He shrugged again. “So I guess me being here with you makes my capture that much more immanent.”
“You don’t seem to care.”
“Of course not. You people are so much worse. Imagine, I’m traveling around the US with no documents. No plausible records of my existence. I don’t have a story of who I am. A persona non grata. Did you know they are stopping random people and throwing them in concentration camps if they can’t explain themselves and they can’t find a country of origin to deport them to?”
“It isn’t that bad.” The uncomfortable feel returned. Byron was just glad Celeste was away on business. She thought all illegal aliens should be shot on sight. “Send them back,” was a normal stamen in their house. If his story was true, Derrick was a real alien and if false, totally insane.
Derrick just snorted and folded his arms, either disagreeing with Byron’s statement or guessing his thoughts.
“Listen,” Byron said after a few minutes of silence, “what are your plans?”
“Plans? What kind of plans can I have? I don’t fit in this world where everyone is addicted to some little device they carry around. Everything has changed, and not for the better. This is no longer the country I love where people were free to walk around without documents and fear of being harassed. When they pick me up, I’ll be ready to go home.”
Derrick nodded and pointed up.
Byron couldn’t sleep. Every sound was magnified a dozen times and made him jump. Was that a floorboard creaking? Was Derrick up? Perhaps using the bathroom?
Celeste had called in the evening. Byron didn’t mention Derrick. What would he say? That he really did have a brother he never told her about and now his 54 year old brother was sitting in front of him not looking a day over 28? That this possibly mentally insane brother was abducted by aliens, who weren’t aliens, but humans, who were, still, technically aliens?
After dinner he had given Derrick a quick history of the last 28 years. The pain of losing Dad. Of Mom being in an assisted living facility in Virginia. Derrick nodded and told him that he’d tried to phone “home”. It wasn’t an easy task without payphones or other public communication. Phone books were nonexistent and useless when he found one. His eyes just glazed over when asked why he didn’t Google the names.
After that, they said very little until it was time to go to bed. Byron said, “Goodnight,” but Derrick said, “Goodbye.”
At 2 AM, thinking he had heard a noise and seen a bright light, Byron got up and checked all of the doors and windows again. The windows were all shut and latched and the doors locked. Not just locked, but he had used the deadbolts for the first time since he had moved into the house. Nobody was getting in, and if Derrick left, the deadbolts would be unlocked.
He slept fitfully for the rest of the night, if that semi-dozing, almost conscious state could be called “sleep”.
The alarm clock finally went off at 5:45. A typical work day.
After his shower, Byron peeked his head into Derrick’s room.
It was empty.
He went around the house, at first with a decided calm, but by the end almost in a frantic.
Derrick wasn’t there. There were no signs that he had ever been there.
Every window was still latched, every door closed, locked and dead-bolted.
“Impossible,” Byron said to himself. “Everything about it, every detail, impossible.”
The next couple of days were hard. Questions kept floating through his mind, unanswerable questions. The house seemed empty.
He used the deadbolts again the first night, Wednesday, but didn’t Thursday night.
Celeste got home late Friday evening, right on schedule. She smiled and kissed his cheek.
“Did anything happen while I was gone?” she asked. “Anything out of the ordinary or interesting?”
“No, nothing at all. It was a boring week.” Byron smiled. “Welcome home.”