It had been an eventful week for Grayson, the most eventful in his life, and it was culminating in this first, face-to-face meeting with a being from another star system -- an event Grayson would never have imagined or believed even a week prior. His worldview was changing fast.

A hum started up within the ship and was followed by a metallic snap. An eight foot wide horizontal line appeared on the underside of the craft and widened as the hum continued. The noise, Grayson realized, came from hydraulics that controlled the opening of a hatch. Neil felt goose bumps marching across his arms and up his back as the gap widened.

When the opening was little more than a foot wide, a metallic ramp appeared and slid silently from the still widening gap to the ground. Like the rest of the craft, it was a polished silver in color and as wide as the original opening, which was presently wide enough to allow a tall man enough headroom to step from the bottom of the ship without bumping his head.

The ramp settled on the ground and the whirring of the hydraulic motors ceased. The encircling crowd hushed and pressed forward for a glimpse of the heretofore unknown. A long moment passed without anything happening. The President leaned forward in his chair. He said something to the First Lady, then turned and said something else to a Secret Service agent. The agent shook his head in the negative and shrugged his shoulders.

And then, something appeared at the top of the ramp. Feet perhaps? Stepping onto the incline were what appeared to be two delicate stems, or perhaps legs. They paused and Dr. Grayson imagined that the being attached to them was peering down the ramp, maybe even screwing up its courage for the first-time encounter with a strange new life-form. The two legs stepped forward and two more legs appeared behind. Now, Grayson could see what at first sight appeared as long strands of colored hair falling nearly to the feet. Grayson corrected himself on what he automatically called feet -- they weren't feet. Rather, they seemed to be balled appendages with bony protrusions at the sides, like knuckles in a fist.

As the creature continued to move down the ramp, some strands of hair moved of their own accord like slender tentacles testing the air. Its downward descent revealed more of the alien moment by moment and Grayson was able to ascertain that all four legs were attached to the same creature. It walked like a four-legged animal, legs rocking back and forth at the hips, upper-body remaining parallel to the ground rather than perpendicular. The forward part of the torso was covered with the hair piling down from a rising neck but its forward shoulders were clearly visible and rocked back and forth horizontal to the ground as the front "feet" moved back and forth.

Like all creatures that walked, hips and shoulders rotated, mirroring each other. When the right hip was forward, the left shoulder was back, and vice versa.

The general impression was that the creature had similar features to a small horse, but that, of course, was only a general, first impression.

The alien came down the ramp until it was finally fully revealed. It was not like a horse. At one point, it paused and seemed to settle on its rear haunches and what were thought to be front legs became impossibly long arms. The creature was ungainly with a long torso broadening to large, muscular hips and rear legs charged with sinewy muscle. It had a shuffling gait that modified whenever the two impossibly long upper appendages, the arms, assisted in the walking process. The head sat atop a thick neck that attached to sloping shoulders. What appeared to be flaps of skin hung from a hairless, bullet-shaped skull. The center of the "face" was an open area surrounded by a clustering of excess skin. Its eyes were placed above but far apart and, peculiarly, they moved separately. Its "skin" color ranged from pink in its sexless loins to gray on its chest and shoulders to a mottled light green in its extremities. The light green color grew darker on the flanks with white spots randomly dotting like a Jackson Pollack painting or stars across an evening sky. The "hair" fell in a manelike affair from its neck, but much of it seemed to move on its own accord.

The creature stopped a few steps from the bottom of the ramp. It looked at the surrounding crowds and finally settled its gaze on the plexiglass barrier, behind which sat the President and his entourage. It half-turned and gazed up the ramp. Behind, two more of the creatures emerged, both larger than the first, but one significantly so.

The crowd of dignitaries gathered at the bottom of the ramp were astounded by the creatures' appearance. It was safe to say no one had ever seen anything like them before. The creature in the lead took surprisingly delicate steps on its muscular back legs and used its long arms for balance, as might a snow skier. Followed by the others, all three descended until reaching level ground. The alien that had emerged first gave way to the mid-sized creature, while the larger one stood behind the two smaller.

As if it sensed the purpose of the raised structure, the one in the lead stepped on the constructed stage. Microphones were set up on stands and wires trailed away. The creature looked at these briefly and moved forward until the sound gear was no more than a foot or two from the alien's "face".

A scent reached across the separation between the creatures and the crowd. Grayson lifted his nose to the air and noted that something smelled like hay, or freshly cut grass.

The creature at the microphones bowed its head and it was only then the crowd realized the middle-sized fellow was no taller than an average-sized adult. Of the two standing behind, the larger one was well over six feet while the other was shorter but stockier. All the creatures had no clothing or body adornment, as far as Grayson could tell. There were tentacles around the aliens' mouths that were perpetually busy, cleaning and wiping. Each of the three wore a type of harness arrangement, and from the belts hung pouches and holsters and instruments of unknown use.

Grayson noticed a medallion hanging around the neck of the lead alien and figured it must be a designation of rank.

It leaned back on its haunches while the long, thin, forward legs folded and shifted to use as arms. The head went up as well and the overall appearance was that the creature had sat down and somehow gained height by doing so.

The alien face leaned closer still to the microphone as the medallion dangled inches under its "chin."

A noise came forth from its mouth containing a stream of liquid filled sibilants. An instant later, a male voice came from the medallion. "Hello," it said.

During the following pause, many from the surrounding crowd and not a few of the gathered officials repeated the greeting. Encouraged by the response, the alien spoke again, but with a considerably longer response. "We are here," the translating device said, "to promote good will and offer friendship to all citizens of Earth. We desire knowledge and perhaps even trade." President Assad tentatively rose from his chair and stepped to a microphone set up on his side of the plexiglass barrier.

"As the President of the United States and leader of the free world, let me be the first to welcome you to Earth," said Assad. Cameras clicked and accompanying lights shined on both the President and the three aliens.

President Assad, never one to lack for words, continued, "We would like for your stay to be as comfortable as possible and extend an offer to arrange for whatever facilities you may require for the duration of your visit. There will be, without doubt, other countries who will extend similar invitations. As a people, we value individual freedom. To that end, you are free to consider any and all invitations." The President paused and waited for a reply from the creature.

The alien stood, mute and still, staring back at the President with no indication it had understood a word. An uncomfortable silence passed which was broken only when the smallest of the three creatures blew gas from its hindquarters.

The gathered crowd laughed aloud. A distinct voice in the crowd said, "It farted!"

The President glanced at his wife who covered her mouth and looked down.

The alien at the microphone shifted on its rear legs and spoke again in its undecipherable tongue. A moment later, the interpreted voice emitted from the instrument hanging from its elongated neck. "I am certain you have many questions about us and our origins. While we cannot answer everything because of time restrictions, I would like to offer the opportunity to answer your basic questions at this time."

The President turned to one of his advisors and asked what he should ask first. However, before the advisor could respond, a reporter from the crowd shouted. "Where do you come from?"

The largest alien turned its head and focused its attention on the reporter, but did not speak. It was obvious only one alien, the one at the microphone, was chosen as the spokesman.

"The lead creature spoke again. A moment later, the interpreting device spoke. "We come from a world twenty light years distant. We call it Terten. It is a satellite of what your scientists call a gas giant. There are four other major planets in the same system and seven minor. Our star system is dominated by what you designate as a red dwarf."

Another advisor leaned to the President's ear and whispered something. Grayson spotted the move and guessed that the advisor had told the President that the creature had described Gliese 581 in the Libran constellation.

A different reporter shouted out, "Do you have a name?"

"Yes," the alien responded, "I am called Evlin Purlin."

"Is that one word?

"No. Two words, first name Evlin, last name Purlin."

"What do you go by?"

"I am sorry, I do not understand."

"Do you prefer to be called Evlin or Mister Purlin?"

"Evlin is my name. I am a Purlin."

The newspeople were like wolves being thrown red meat. One shouted out, "What's a Purlin?" Another asked "Tell us about Terten." Yet another shouted for Evlin to further explain what the aliens' intentions were -- "Why are you here?" It was the last discernible question before the rest were lost in a general melee of shouting.

The President's amplified voice rose above the din, asking for order. The reporters did not respond until police sentries along the perimeters began pushing them back. By that time, the apparently unperturbed alien had begun to address those questions it had heard.

"A Purlin," said the voice from the translator device, "is a species that inhabits the world of Terten. We have a ten thousand year recorded history. Prior to that, we lived primitively. Terten is somewhat smaller than your planet and is populated by thousands of different species. We are sensitive to their needs of and do all we can to preserve habitats and maintain population numbers." The last bit was met with an approving murmur among the Earth crowd.

Evlin continued. "We are here to promote mutual understanding, perhaps to trade eventually, although Terten is a fully sustained world. We have achieved a balanced planet-wide ecosphere and solved all the resulting societal problems..."

"Does Terten have problems like Earth?" Someone shouted.

President Assad was whispering to aides as Evlin spoke. The impromptu, public interview was unplanned and therefore out of control. Assad issued instructions and the aides passed these on to field officers.

Evlin answered the last, shouted question. "Not anymore," said the alien.

Grayson noticed more security personnel, cops and soldiers, pushing their way through the crowd, not a few in the direction of the most vocal reporters.

"Who are your... companions?" a reporter shouted.

The big one turned his head at the question, as if he understood. The smaller one farted again, which elicited more laughter. Evlin rambled off an answer and a moment later the interpreter translated: "They are my assistants."

By that time, more police had reached the front of the crowd and began to push people back. President Assad leaned to the microphone once again and urged everyone to remain calm and cooperate. "We have arranged a facility for our visitors and will -- with their permission, of course -- transport them via, uh, ground transport."

Grayson was not aware of any facility but understood that security precautions prevented him from knowing all the government's plans. Or, Dr. Grayson thought, maybe arrangements had only been made after we got a look at what we were dealing with.

And what were they dealing with? Neil's eyes were drawn to the strange creatures. They were impossibly inhuman yet moved and spoke (at least, one of them) with intelligence and reason.

The President had stepped away from the microphone and he and his family had vanished into the entourage behind him. A whole group of government affiliated people moved as a group toward the parked convoy of limos. A police captain stepped to the microphone and asked the civilian crowd to "Please disperse, everyone, so we can do our jobs."

Neil thought the aliens must be confused at the activity. They stood where they were, mutely watching the activity, seemingly oblivious to any threat. But then again, thought Dr. Grayson, how could they know what was a threat here on Earth and what was not? A soldier pushed Grayson from behind and told him to move along. "Time to go, buddy. Show's over."

Neil tried to tell him he was part of the government group and the soldier responded by telling him to catch up with them. As he walked away with the rest of the crowd, he saw black-clad, armed soldiers approach the three aliens. A military truck rumbled slowly through the parting crowd and stopped at the bottom of the ramp. The last glimpse Dr. Grayson saw of the aliens was the three of them being shepherded into the rear of the truck. The ramp leading up and into the alien shuttle lifted, disappeared into the craft, and sealed itself shut.

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