Central Park near 5th Avenue and 58th was relatively quiet that December evening.
The beam of light from the stars briefly illuminated a piece of grass beside a tree. After the flash there stood, on all fours, an alien. The metallic plates on his back rustled and the creature took in a deep breath. He had been expecting an argon-based atmosphere and was suitably surprised by a lung full of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and lead.
“Urk,” said the alien.
A crazy person walking alone in Central Park ignored him.
The alien realised he was on the wrong planet. His environmental analyser scanned the area and he swiftly adapted his respiratory system.
“Where am I?” he thought. “I’ve never seen a planet like this before.”
He cursed the people operating the Transmat. He had an important mission. He had to catch a criminal. “Instead,” he thought, “they just merrily send me anywhere they feel like.”
He activated his navigation system and moved out from under the tree to look at the stars. It was cloudy, very cloudy. His navigation equipment wouldn’t function at all.
“Terrific,” he thought. “I can’t even figure out where I am!”
He scanned the park and determined that his current metal armadillo-like shape wasn’t going to match the general appearance of the natives. The alien modified his body to be roughly human, standing at about five foot ten. He modified more of his body’s molecules to create a trench coat for himself. This hid his not quite human-looking metal skin. To make himself more closely human, he would have to make contact. This could be dangerous as he had no idea what the natives were like. He walked out onto the road in Central Park and looked for a person walking alone. No one he could see was by themselves. How irritating. He decided to risk brighter street lights and he headed to Central Park Avenue.
A man in a hurry was walking toward 7th Avenue. He was grumbling. Dr. Cass was not a happy man. His mother-in-law, an irritating hypochondriac, had had one of her “fits” and had called her dutiful son-in-law over to help. She had called while he and his wife were finally getting down to some serious lovemaking after a dismal month of perfunctory interludes in the style of it’s-11pm-and-we-have-nothing-better-to-do. He had had it all set up. He had made his own pasta. The wine had been allowed to breathe. He had lit the scented candles. The lights had been dimmed. All ruined by that old bitch with a cold.
Dr. Cass did not see the alien reach out to touch his face.
There was a second of agonising pain and then:
“You must have tripped, doctor,” said a man who looked somehow familiar to the physician. It was hard to tell with the pathetic lighting on the street. The alien was holding up Dr. Cass by the elbow.
“I must have,” Cass said with some surprise.
“Merry Christmas,” said the alien, walking off.
Later, the physician wondered how the stranger had known he was a doctor. He checked for his wallet. It was still there. “Oh well,” the doctor thought, “one of life’s mysteries.”
It had worked. The alien was pleased. He now decided to refer to himself by the doctor’s middle name, Burton. He had quickly made a copy of every memory and experience in the good doctor’s brain and stored it in his own. The doctor would remain unaffected.
Now Burton could speak the language and understand the customs and behaviour of the natives. (Or so he thought.) He had also made himself look like the doctor. He decided that might not be completely wise. As Burton walked down 7th Avenue, he looked closely at people’s bodies and faces and incorporated changes into his own visage so that he looked essentially unique, but not outstanding in any way.
He looked into the sky. Still cloudy. He reasoned that there was no point in trying to travel to an area where there was clear sky as there was a good chance of it clouding over by the time he arrived. He might as well wait. And he had no money for bus, train or cab. As a police officer, albeit from another planet, he honoured the laws of any planet he visited. “Well,” he thought, “most of the time.”
Burton had to amuse himself until the sky cleared. What could he do in New York City for a few hours? Burton queried the information recorded from Dr. Cass’ brain. What to do? The answers came back:
• go to a movie
• go to a show
• go to dinner
• go to dinner and a show or movie
These all cost money. Burton could easily manufacture money, but that was counterfeiting and illegal. He queried the doctor’s brain again. What could you do in New York that didn’t cost money? At this time of night. The doctor’s brain was stumped. It could only come up with:
• take a very long walk
• crash a party and don’t offer to buy anyone drinks
Burton didn’t feel like a walk, so he decided to stroll past hotels and see if any Christmas parties were going on that he could gate crash.
At The New York Hilton on Avenue of the Americas many cars and limos were pulling up to the front gate. Elegant women in expensive dresses emerged, accompanied by men in tuxedoes. Burton queried the doctor’s brain as to the nature of the party. The response was a guess that a large bank was having a Christmas party. Since it was a formal affair, it probably was for staff and clients.
Burton walked through the main doors and wandered toward the ballroom. He looked out of place in a trench coat. At the door to the ballroom a member of the hotel staff stopped him. “By invitation only, sir.”
“I was wondering,” said Burton, “could I just take a look at an invitation? I don’t have to touch it. Just see it.”
The hotel man looked sceptical. What did this guy want? But he couldn’t see a problem, so he held up one invitation and showed it to Burton. The alien blinked and thanked him. Burton walked to a bathroom. In a stall, he assumed a different face and changed his clothes into a tuxedo. He modified the molecules of some toilet paper and manufactured an invitation. Since it was a party thrown by a financial institution, he decided to pose as a client. He called himself Burton Cummings, President of Transit Materials, Inc.
He left the washroom and showed his invitation to the hotel worker. The man frowned at the alien. Something was incorrectly here … this guy looked like the one asking about the invitation. Except the first man had been black and this one was white.
The alien mingled with people and was startled by the hypocrisy. People were being perfectly pleasant to other people they loathed. There was a total lack of sincerity. The happiness of the festive season was mostly a mask. Using the doctor’s knowledge, Burton scanned numerous people and found them to be radically unhealthy, both mentally and physically.
The cause was mostly stress-related and it was a result of seeming self-abuse. Most of the people there were doing tasks and jobs that they thought were either being implemented wrong or were basically immoral. But they refused to state their opinion because of fear of losing their jobs. Burton noted that fear and constant aggravation was a deadly combination.
One couple stood out as two who did not fit the pattern. Burton sensed them right away. The wife was due to have a baby anytime. Carmela was wearing a beautiful maternity dress that was styled better than most normal dresses. She radiated a sense of beauty and fulfilment. Although she wouldn’t admit it, she was feeling smug. Everyone said she was looking marvellous. She tried to keep a sense of reality by telling herself she looked like a blimp.
Her pregnancy had been a nuisance only in the first couple of months. It was turning out to be easier than she thought, considering this was her first child. The other women at the party who were already mothers silently thought: “wait till the labour pains, kiddo.”
Carmela worked for the bank while her husband, Christian, did not. She was responsible for public relations until she took her leave about two weeks ago. When she saw Burton and could not place him as either a staff member or as a client, she approached him and introduced herself.
Burton had hoped she would do this as he wanted to talk to her. His lies were all ready. He was a new client and he said his account manager from the bank was Davis, a man unable to attend the party and consequently unable to call Burton a liar. “I decided to come anyway. It was all worth it just to meet you.” “I’m being drowned in flattery tonight!”
“As well you should.”
Christian had long ago been able to sense when his wife was being hit on, so he politely left his conversation to join his wife.
“Mr. Cummings, this is my husband Chris.”
They shook hands. “Call me Burton,” said the alien.
“Burton Cummings?” said Chris. “Any relation?”
“To whom?” asked Burton.
“Burton Cummings. Lead singer of The Guess Who.”
The conversation picked up from there. Carmela and Chris were astounded by the observations Burton was making about the people in the room. Considering he claimed to have met virtually none of them, his assumptions about each person’s trials in life were frighteningly accurate.
“I need a drink, darling,” said Christian. “Can I get you a juice or something? Burton … Anything?”
“Whatever you’re having,” said the alien.
“Get me an orange juice,” said Carmela. “I’ll be glad when this baby comes so I can drink again. Eventually.” She had momentarily forgotten about needing a clean blood stream for breast-feeding.
By the time Christian got back with the drinks, Carmela was beginning her labour pains. Burton was helping her to a cab and calling for Chris.
“Famous last words,” said Burton.
Carmela laughed. “I guess I shouldn’t have said the bit about alcohol.”
When they got to the front doors, a cab squealed eagerly to the front of the line to pick them up. The trio did not notice the cab had cut in front of other cabs specifically to take them. They all piled into the cab. The driver pulled away abruptly, not waiting for directions.
“You don’t have to come,” Carmela said to Burton.
“Why not? This is exciting.”
“Cabbie. Nearest hospital,” said Chris.
The cab driver sped on, but stopped at a nearby intersection to let someone into the front passenger seat.
“What are you doing?” said Christian.
The new passenger looked crazed. To reinforce this he pulled a gun, saying: “The woman bears a son of God. We must kill that child!”
Burton looked confused.
“Are you out of your fucking mind?” said Chris. The cab sped through the streets, heading to a destination other than a hospital.
“Satan showed us the way to the Christ-child! We do his bidding. The child must die!”
Burton queried the doctor’s brain. Dr. Cass had limited experience with Satanists. Burton derived from the good doctor’s memories that, regardless of the veracity of Satan’s existence, devil worshippers were dangerous. Burton was not about to let these fools hurt his new friends. After all, the alien was a police officer, charged to protect the innocent. Carmela’s baby was as innocent as they came.
The cab ride seemed to last forever. Each of the two men held one of Carmela’s hands. Chris hoped it was comforting her. He needed to hold her hand just to keep himself from freaking out.
Burton took a moment to analyse the data. Dr. Cass knew all about Christ and the miraculous birth. But the concept this couple could have produced a second Christ seemed absurd. “But,” Burton reasoned, “how did these alleged devil worshippers know Carmela was going into labour at that hotel at that time? Had they been following her diligently for weeks? Unlikely, as New Yorkers are a suspicious lot and would notice people following them. Especially loony-tunes like these.” A Dr. Cass expression had slipped into Burton’s own thinking.
The alien then had another worry. What if the misdirection of the teleporter was not an accident? “No,” he said to himself. “Impossible.” He refused to believe in higher beings with power like that. He ascribed his strange thoughts to not having a clue where he was in the galaxy. Being lost was documented as having disorienting effects on a person. The cab finally stopped in front of an old run down building.
Carmela’s contractions were progressing quite well.
When the cab stopped, two other men emerged from the shadows carrying guns. Burton analysed the situation. He could not act here. To much room for stray fire. The three were taken up two flights of stairs into a room that had a pentagram on the floor. A variety of animal heads hanging on the walls. It smelt bad. “The woman must give birth to the child lying on the pentagram so that when we cut out its heart, Satan will have it’s soul.”
Burton saw his opportunity. Two of the four Satanists were just outside the door and two had just stepped inside the room. He gestured at the door and caused it to slam shut, breaking two noses. The two remaining Satanists raised their guns, but Burton pointed at their faces and bluish lightning sparked into their eyes. Their now-unconscious bodies rose into the air and sailed across the room into a closet. That door slammed and Burton transformed the door into a wall. The Satanists were blocked in. It would be hours before they woke and more hours before they could break out.
The two outside the room wiped blood from their noses and charged the door. Burton transformed the wood into mildly electrified steel and the men were jolted into unconsciousness.
Chris looked baffled.
“This is weird shit,” thought Carmela.
Burton pulled all the data from Dr. Cass’s brain on births. There was no way they were going to make it to a hospital now. Sterile conditions were important, Burton noted. He raised his hands and the blue lightning emerged, striking the walls, floor and ceiling. Burton took all the matter in the room and rearranged the molecules to meet the standards of a hospital room. The men’s tuxedos vanished and were replaced by surgeons’ gowns. Carmela now wore a hospital smock. All the proper equipment appeared in the room. Burton took all the skill, experience and knowledge from Dr. Cass and delivered a healthy baby boy.
Dr. Cass was at home finally getting it on with his wife and had no idea a copy of his brain was delivering a baby.
The landlord of the building was later mystified by the way the room had been renovated.
Carmela held her son and tears streamed down her face. “I feel like an idiot,” she said, “I’ve never cried for joy before.”
“You’re wonderful,” said Christian, hugging his wife and baby. “But, Burton. How did you do those things? Don’t say your an angel of God or anything, please.”
“Hardly, I’m a lost space-travelling policeman. You see I was on my way to apprehend a criminal and I landed in Central Park instead of …” The alien trailed off. Not because Chris was looking at him with total disbelief, but because he realised he wouldn’t have been able to help deliver Carmela’s child if he hadn’t made a copy of a physician’s brain. There were millions of people living in New York City. How did he happen to pick a doctor? How did he happen to choose to crash a party at the New York Hilton? How did he get here in the first place?
“Burton?” asked Carmela. “You look upset …”
“Well … I … there’s a bit of a problem with probability here.” He decided not to pursue that line of thought. “I assure you,” he continued, “I am an alien. I took a human shape to fit into society while I waited to contact my home base so they could re-route me to my real destination. I need a clear sky, you see.” The couple were a little too stunned to intellectually deal with this.
“Shall we get you, dear Carmela, to a real hospital?” said the alien.
They wrapped the baby in many small blankets and Burton produced for Carmela a coat with a baby pouch.
They decided to borrow the cab that had been used to kidnap them. Chris drove.
Shortly, the sky cleared. And it looked totally unfamiliar to Burton. His navigation equipment, which fit into a watch, took several seconds rather than fractions of one second to orient itself.
“400,000 light years off course? That’s impossible! I was only making a 200 light year jump!” Burton had yelled and consequently frightened the couple, but not the baby. He wasn’t surprised at all.
It took Burton a while to determine at what angle he should fire his message beam. When his communication was received, and return message sent, they had the gall to accuse him of tampering the teleport machinery. Burton sent a rude message back to his home base and told them to fix it.
The cab pulled in front of the hospital.
“I must go now,” said Burton.
“Come here and get kissed,” said Carmela. Burton enjoyed the kiss. He shook hands with Christian.
“Promise you’ll visit,” demanded Chris. “It doesn’t matter if you’re not human or weird or anything. You’re a great guy. Thank you.”
Burton smiled and looked at the baby. The little boy was awake and eyed Burton happily.
“I may not have much choice,” said Burton, scrutinising the baby.
There was a flash of light and he was gone.