Paclua Oideioby Micromegas
Beth Patterson woke up in a strange place. At first she did not know where she was. Morning light shone through the coarse weave of a cloth ceiling above. It looked just like her bedsheet, only the floral print and the weave were much bigger. And there was a mattress still under her. 'I AM still in bed!' she realized. But she had somehow become very small. Her shrinkage had drawn her head and limbs inward under her covers until she lay in the slight hollow where the heaviest part of her body, her hips, once lay.
'How did THIS happen?' she exclaimed out loud, terrified. She could forget about going to work today. She was so small she couldn't even get out of her own house, let alone drive her car. The bedclothes had not completely collapsed on her--her sheet stood a yard above her head. The collapsing sheets and blankets had formed three tunnels of folds and wrinkles from where she lay, but, frightened and wondering what to do, she stayed where she was. Thank goodness her pajamas had shrunk with her.
Just then, sounds of rustling and movement startled her. Someone was in her room? No! Four huge fingers slid in between the sheets on her left and bumped into her side as she tried to rise. The fingers rose up and gently coaxed her onto her back again. Side by side these huge fingers covered nearly her entire length, so she figured she must be about three or four inches tall now. The hand looked like it belonged to a man.
'Frightened?' rumbled the deepest, most sympathetic and cavernous of voices. 'Don't be. I'll wait a few minutes until you are more used to me.' His fingertips rested upon her for several minutes. They were very gentle and did not crush her, but they were not about to let her get away, either.
Heart pounding, she wondered, 'Who is he? Is he going to take me? Help!'
Aloud, she said, 'Did you do this to me?'
'No. The Zypraxans did that to you. And to everyone else on your block. Except you. I managed to get only to you before they did. I took you out of the bed while you were asleep and hid while they searched your house, then, knowing you would be frightened to death if you woke up in my hand, I put you back to bed and waited until morning.'
The stranger in her room seemed nice enough, but should she believe him? 'Who are you, then?'
'Paclua Oideio from Xenos, at your service.'
'Where's Xenos?' she asked.
'Outer space. Approximately near the handle of the constellation you call the Big Dipper. And what is your name?'
'Beth Patterson. C-can you get me back to my right size?' she asked. His nearest fingernail was the size of a plate. He might be from outer space, but his oversized hand looked human enough.
'Right now, only the Zypraxans can do this. But we are close to a breakthrough ourselves, and now that I have an actual victim of their miniaturization technique, that puts us even closer.'
Now she was even more nervous. 'Will you please help me?'
'That's what I'm here for.'
He sensed her fear and added, 'I understand how you must feel. Am I lying? Will I hurt you? What will become of you? Your life has suddenly and rudely been interrupted, and your future plans have been cancelled. But let's hope not forever. I'll try to get your life back for you. Will you--' His voice lowered and sincerely he said, '--will you trust me? Or try to?'
'I don't have much choice, do I?'
She hesitated a long moment. 'All right.'
The bedclothes slowly lifted, revealing Paclua's big wrist. The wrist disappeared into a dark purple tunnel, the sleeve of his suit. A big pair of elfinly slanted violet eyes peered in at her. His massive arm led up to a smoothly purple-clad shoulder as he slowly and gently peeled back the covers, revealing his face. No antennae. No pointed ears. He appeared a slightly odd-looking human--and there were no lack of slightly odd-looking humans on earth. His nose hooked slightly. A purple hat firmly sat on his brown curls. The rest of him was sitting beside the bed, hidden from view. He smiled pleasantly. 'Hello, Beth.'
'Hello,' said Beth. The giant's purple suit with dark green brocaded vest didn't seem like something a spaceman would wear if he wanted to blend in with the crowd. Then again, most sane human beings would probably take him for an eccentric dandy with an unusual eye color and leave it at that.
'Care to take a ride in a vest pocket?' he asked a little sadly. Taking his hand off of her, he placed it palm up beside her.
'N--not really. But I guess I have to,' Beth replied. As she rose, she said, 'I hate having to leave in just my pyjamas.'
'Maybe you don't have to,' he answered as she walked upon his big warm fingers and from there onto his palm. His fingers, when they curled up behind her, were as tall as she was. 'Have you done lots of laundry this week?'
Smoothly he pulled out the lapel of his coat and lifted her to his vest pocket. She lowered herself into the satiny green bag of fabric, and when she was well in, he closed his lapel again, leaving her to look at the dark purple lining of his big suitcoat. Getting up, he walked to the laundry room. 'Ah. You have done lots of laundry this week and you have lots of cute little clothes.'
'How come some things shrunk and some didn't?' she asked.
'To collect specimens, the Zypraxans first put a chemical in your drinking water. They waited until everyone drank the water for a few days, then last night they bombarded the entire block with rays. They shrank everyone who drank the water, and everything that had been washed in it. Then they came down to collect your neighbors from their beds.' His coat rustled as he stuffed all the shrunken laundry he could find into his coat pockets. Beth was chilled to the bone. All her neighbors--Nell Smith, Harvey Rice, nice old Mrs. Bleakman--gone? As if he had read her mind, he said, 'I'm sorry about your neighbors. I was lucky to get you. If there's any way to get them back, we will. But I cannot promise.'
From her place in his vest pocket, she watched her living room pass by as he walked to her front door. Pausing, he bent down and came up with her maroon leather purse in his big hands. 'Shall we take this?'
'Oh, yes,' Beth exclaimed.
'I've noticed earthly ladies feel more secure with their purses.' Putting the purse in a paper bag, he carried it to the door. 'Here we go, Beth,' he said little sadly. 'I hope I can return you to your life, soon.' Opening her front door, he locked it behind them and off they went.
Once in his car and driving, Paclua said, 'It would not be nice of me to cage you up. Especially if something happened to me. But were I to come back to my ship and find you gone, or something happened to you, I would never forgive myself. So I'm afraid for the duration of your size change, you have a constant companion. Me. Whereever I go, you go.'
'As long as you don't go straight into trouble,' said Beth.
Eventually, he stopped, got out and pulled back his coat lapel. 'The cargo bay of my spaceship,' he said.
He smiled down at her as his great arm took in the blue floor, the blue walls, and the blue ceiling in one gigantic gesture. Promptly he took her to the ship's small (to her, gigantic) lab. Where he bid her lay down on a soft cottonlike pad and examined her with several instruments not of this world. One was a round tube that scanned her with a purple light. 'We already know the composition of what they put in the water,' Paclua commented as he scanned her with a thermal harmonics analyzer. 'We just need to know the sort of energy they use to bombard their victims. You are the first victim I've been able to rescue and analyze. They got everyone else. Hmm. Interesting findings.' Much later, after communicating all the information he had gathered to his mothership, he announced, 'Now I'm done. Would you care to go out for something to eat?'
'Sure,' she said aloud. To herself she said, 'First time someone asks me out on a date in months, and it has to be like this!'
He produced her laundry, and a small box to use as a changing booth. She found her red corduroy vest and trousers, and a pink blouse in the pile, but... She walked in stocking feet to the great seat where Paclua studied computer readouts. From this angle the man in his chair towered like a building. She called up, 'No shoes!'
'Perhaps I can replicate some,' said Paclua. 'It may take several tries to get a perfect fit.' It did, but finally she had a pair of tiny brown shoes to go with her tiny red corduroy vest and trousers.
From a downtown variety store, Paclua bought Beth a tiny mug with her name on it. When he had coffee, he drew up some with an eyedropper and squeezed three or four drops into her mug. Still in his vest pocket, she drank the top of the liquid quick before it got cold. Seeing her have to scrape out the big drops stuck in the bottom, Paclua said, 'The surface tension may make it more difficult to get liquids out of the bottom. It's easier for a tiny someone to drink out of a little dish than a cup.'
'I do thank you for being such a kind fellow, Paclua, but I sure hope I don't have to live like this forever,' said Beth.
'I hope not, either. I do hope my people find an antidote for this, soon. Meanwhile, Beth, you're seeing the world from a whole new point of view. I know it is hard, but I'll try to make your stay at this size as enjoyable as possible. As I told you, I do love miniatures.' And he touched a huge fingertip to her tiny nose.
'H--how do I know you didn't do this to me yourself?'
'I was a nurse at Grace Hospital, but I sure can't be one now. How would I do CPR? Jump up and down on the patient's sternum?'
'That is a problem,' Paclua agreed after Beth explained the medical terms to him. He had chosen a dark restaurant booth where he could freely converse with his vest pocket. His coffee cup lifted past Beth, tipped to his great lips high above, and the hot drink faintly gurgled down the esophagus deep in his chest. As a matter of fact, when she put her ear against the back of his pocket, she could hear his deep breaths and heartbeat almost as plainly as she could through a stethoscope. As she wondered how Paclua's anatomy might differ from a human's, the waitress brought their dinner, a delicately-turned slab of flounder on a gently-spiced bed of rice and vegetables.
Paclua served Beth a small piece of flounder, a couple grains of rice, and pieces of vegetables on a spoon while he waited for his portion to cool down. 'In ancient times, everyone used to eat with their fingers,' she remarked as she picked up the flounder by that ancient method herself.
'On Xenos, we still do. But here, I had to pick up your custom of using fork, knife and spoon,' he remarked as he watched her eat her flounder.
'How long have you been on earth?'
'One of your decades,' he answered.
She began nibbling a grain of rice. 'And what do you do for a living?'
'I am an operative from Xenos, sent to observe you. My mothership alerted me to a Zypraxan star cruiser heading in this direction. I sent out a probe to scan until it detected the presence of that chemical in your drinking water. Then I brought my ship here, and at least managed to rescue you.'
'How did you get me out of bed without waking me?' Beth started on a piece of carrot.
Reaching up, Paclua brought down in his fingers the purple and blue feather cockade from his purple hat. 'I picked you up with this. Nice and soft. Slipped it under you and picked you up and you never knew the difference.'
'My question is, am I safer with you than the Zypraxans?'
'I hope so.' Paclua put his cockade in his hatband. When his small guest declared herself full, Paclua put down the spoon, picked up the fork, and enjoyed his share of the meal.
Licking her fingers, Beth thought, 'Paclua seems a decent sort, but I hope I don't have to live in his vest pocket for the rest of my life!'
When dessert came, he proffered a piece of brownie topped by a glob of ice cream topped by a piece of maraschino cherry. 'I don't like eating ice cream with my fingers,' she said.
'Eat it off the spoon as you would if you were full-sized,' he suggested. 'And I'll look away if you're embarrassed.' He turned his head.
Eating the ice cream as she might from a cone, she picked up the brownie and ate that, too. 'Thank you, Paclua. That was very good.'
'Chocolate is one of my favorite earthly delights,' said Paclua as he dug in. 'When and if earth joins our Galactic Federation, I predict chocolate will become your most popular export.'
When he had elegantly slipped the last crumbs through the gateway of his immense lips, Beth said, 'Why don't you tear off a piece of napkin, wet it in your water glass so I can wipe off my hands? Licking my fingers is not very sanitary.'
'It works for cats.'
Paclua heaved a good-natured sigh. 'Oh well.' He handed her the wet piece of paper napkin and finished off his coffee.
The men's room proved an interesting problem. For Paclua's privacy, Beth scrunched down in his pocket, closed her eyes, plugged her ears and held her breath. And was glad when a gentle nudge signaled that that was over.
Back in Paclua's ship, the tall alien cleared a bottom shelf in his laboratory and set her purse beside it. Beth climbed out of his pocket into his hand. In one smooth sweep, Paclua transferred her down to the shelf, and left the lab for a moment. Beth walked around the blue enclosure. Shortly he returned with an armload of earthly miniatures hugged to his chest. 'See? I told you I loved miniatures.' Lying on his stomach, he placed them inside. A padded armchair, a desk, a table, a bentwood rocker, two chests of drawers, a wardrobe, and a canopy bed, all elegant Victorian-style furnishings. This spaceman certainly had good taste. He also put on the table a Xenosian lighting globe that turned on and off with a touch. 'There,' he said to Beth, smiling and folding his arms. 'Not quite like home, but I hope you're comfortable.
Trying a miniature Bentwood rocker, Beth swung her feet back and forth. 'Great. Now I feel like a little kid instead of a little shrimp. My feet don't reach the floor.'
''The furniture is 1/12 scale while you are 1/18th scale. Would you like me to try to replicate some 1/18th scale furniture for you?'
'No. This is fine. You've put yourself out enough already. Thank you very much, Paclua.'
When the mattress of the tiny canopy bed proved too hard, Paclua replicated a small mattress and covers of the softest materials the replicator could produce. Paclua's hand came around the corner with the box she had changed clothes in earlier. The rest of her laundry was still inside.
'I'll study computer readouts while you settle in. I do appreciate the company, though I sincerely regret the circumstances.' Massive enough lying down, Paclua towered like a skyscraper when he stood. Beth watched as he went over to his computer, eased into his chair and began studying data again. A far cry from the stereotyped hostile aliens who invaded and laserblasted their way through too many a sci-fi film, this spaceman's friendly and gentle ways were quite winning. He made being little almost enjoyable. Almost. She had been looking forward to the concert Saturday. Now that was canceled.
Beth walked around her small new living space, feeling like a four year old child. On both velvet upholstered chairs, her feet didn't reach the floor. And the top of the table came to her chest. Ditto with the top of the dresser as she stood on tiptoe and peered into the mirror. She was miniature even compared to Paclua's miniatures. Small, small, small. She wasn't a great beauty either, especially with her dark brown hair an uncombed mess. She would have to ask Paclua to replicate a tiny brush and comb for her, too.
Sighing, she took an armload of clothes from the box to the dresser. As she put clothes away in the, to her, oversized drawers, another thing bothered Beth about being this size and on Paclua's ship, instead of full sized at home surrounded by her craft kits, her sewing machine, her tastes in general. Nothing to read and nothing to do. Everything written she had seen here was in Xenosian, and craft projects were seemingly out of the question. She'd had several going at home--a needlepoint pillow, a pair of trousers, and a cross-stitch picture of shells. Here? She could sleep or converse with her gigantic alien host, and that was about it. Well, perhaps she could attempt her needlepoint at this size, but her needlepoint was not here.
Paclua was still studying his computer console. Going over to the huge spaceman felt more like walking down the block to visit a neighbor than crossing a room.'Paclua? I just had a thought,' she called up to him.
He smiled down at her. 'Yes?'
Paclua laughed. 'Yes, you could do that. Would you like to come up here with me?' When she agreed, he swiveled around in his immense chair and placed his big hand on the floor.
Then, on a thought, he raised his hand up before Beth could step into it. 'Wait. Can you try jumping up here? That small, you should be able to do it.'
Beth blinked at the large hand above her. 'That's like jumping onto the roof of my own house.'
'You should be able to do it,' he coaxed in an interested fashion.
Come to think of it, Beth did feel lighter at her new size. And small creatures like grasshoppers and jerboas could jump several times their body length. The bigger a creature was, the less it could jump--massive elephants could not jump at all. So Beth crouched down and let loose with a spring. That launched her into Paclua's hand and nearly propelled her off the other side. His other hand caught her just in time.
Very pleased, Paclua leaned back in his chair, held her in both hands and grinned affectionately. 'Excellent! Didn't know you had it in you, did you?'
He had her sit on something that looked like a blue plastic bottlecap on his console. She ruefully scanned the odd symbols on the computer screen. 'I have no idea what you're looking at. I'm an excellent reader--of English.'
'Yes. And at this size, I can't do much of anything.'
'Which is boring,' he agreed as he flipped through more computer readouts. 'Another reason I'd like to see you back at your rightful size as soon as possible. Much as I like you little, too. Didn't I say I felt sorry for you?' He heaved a sigh and looked at her. 'I do. What do you like to do when you're normal-sized?'
'I read. I knit. I crochet. I sew.'
'All of which you can hardly do now.' He flipped through readouts on his computer screen thoughtfully, then said, 'I have reading material in English that I downloaded from your Internet into the main computer. Would you like to look through that? I won't promise there will be anything that suits you, but you can at least do that.'
'All right. I'd be happy to try it.'
Carrying her into another room, he asked the computer to call up the Internet material. Leaving her sitting on a little armchair on the console to peruse the material, he went back to his work again. 'This is like watching the big screen at the movies,' remarked Beth, kicking her feet in the oversized armchair as she looked up at the big computer screen.
'What would you like to see, little one?' asked the computer.
Beth was a bit taken aback. How did this mere machine know she was little? Quickly deciding there were sensors throughout the ship that kept the computer informed, Beth said, 'Uh--let's see some knitting websites.' The computer obligued, and as Beth requested subject after subject, one thing became obvious. 'It looks like Paclua downloaded the whole Internet,' Beth commented.
'An operative must know his assigned planet to the utmost degree,' the computer informed her.
'Why,' she asked.
'To best welcome that planet into the Galactic Federation when space travel is achieved.' Paclua loomed through the doorway. His fingertips offered her a miniature dish with a piece of ice surrounded by a big quivering glob of water. 'Something to drink?'
'Oh, thank you, Paclua.' She reached out, accepted the dish and applied her lips to the well-mounded water. He watched carefully as she sucked the big glob of water down to nothing. 'Thank you for demonstrating that technique to me.'
'Liquids feel more jellylike at this size,' said Beth as she gave the dish back into Paclua's waiting fingers.
'Not surprising,' he answered. 'Are you through reading, or would you like to continue?'
'I'll continue, if that is all right with you,' she said.
With a smile, Paclua nodded and left the room.
'He might be enjoying this now, but sooner or later he might get tired of it.' Beth was thinking of how she could be with small pets. 'But I'm not a small pet.' Then she thought about it. 'But it looks like I am a small pet.' She thought about it some more. 'I'm a small guest. A very small guest. But Paclua might tire of a small guest, too.'
She perused Paclua's collection of web sites and pages until the gigantic alien came in again and said, 'Try a replicated Xenosian lunch?' He held out some strange foods on a lunch tray on the palm of his hand. Beth leaned over the side of his hand and took the tray. There was a round green mottled whatnot on one dish, some mashed red whatsit on another, and a piece of cream-colored something in another. And to drink, a quivering purple liquid mounded in a dish. 'How do you know Xenosian food will agree with me?'
'I've had the computer run research on what nourishes and poisons humans. I assure you that our genetic makeups are very similar and highly compatible, and all Xenosian foods are safe for you.'
'If Xenosians eat strange things like bugs and worms, don't include those in my menu.'
'Oh?' Paclua's brow quirked with disappointment. But his violet eyes twinkled. 'No nice, crunchy Darmian thrips? They are quite delicious.'
'No, thank you.'
Chuckling, Paclua held out something wrapped in a maroon cloth. 'I also replicated some earthly eating instruments. Since you do not care to eat with your fingers, you can take them with you when we eat at a restaurant.'
'Why, thank you very much.' Beth unwrapped the cloth to find a complete set of knife, fork and spoon inside. Beaming happily, Paclua left the room. Sitting down in the armchair with the tray in her lap, Beth tried the round, green mottled whatnot. 'Not bad,' she said.
She finished up her meal. 'Just watch Paclua tell me I've just eaten squashed bugs,' she thought.
Setting the tray aside, she wandered around the tabletop. Seeing another table close to this one, she wondered if she could jump over there. But she was still thinking like a full-sized person, and the distance to the floor should she miss made her giddy. There was a blue chair padded with what looked like molded vinyl with its seat right below the edge of the table. 'How far could I fall now, and not hurt myself?' she wondered. The distance from table to chair seat was not so far, so she worked up her courage and jumped off.
She rolled over and over on the seat, but she was unhurt. 'Well, good. That means I'm not completely helpless,' she remarked as she picked herself up. Walking over to where the chair back met the seat, she sat downand looked up and around. Beth felt very lost in the sheer giantness of the chair. 'My, how I've shrunk in one night. Darn Zypraxians. Poor Rita was really counting on me today.' Rita was the grinning, wisecracking head nurse on her floor. 'Well, she'll understand once the news hits the papers that everyone on my block has mysteriously vanished.' Rita was the type of lady who'd hop the nearest space shuttle and go after those marauding alien kidnappers if she could.
'Wait a minute. Mrs. Bleakman's her great-aunt. She'd really hunt those aliens down to get her back. Poor Rita.' Distressed, Beth began weeping.
'What is this?' murmured a soft rumbly voice. 'Chair's a bit big for you, isn't it? If I may--' his gentle hands closed in under her and lifted her up. Paclua sat down in the chair himself, and, to Beth's surprise, tenderly held her to his cheek. 'What is it, Beth? Has your size change suddenly gotten to you?' 'Rita's the head nurse on my floor. Mrs. Bleakman was her great-aunt, and when she finds out she's disappeared---'
A shudder ran though Paclua's great frame, and he wept with her. Paclua's low rumble reverberated through their flesh and bone. 'I'm sorry. I wish I could set things right for you, but this ship is a mere shuttlecraft compared to a Zypraxan star cruiser. My mothership is in pursuit. We will just have to wait.'
'Y-you're no unemotional Mr. Spock,' she said aloud.
'Exactly why I chose to be an operative who observes alien cultures. Empathy--I absorb understanding of individuals and alien cultures more quickly than most, and, in effect, become human, or become telosian, or become, at least, one with those of peaceful dispositions. Warlike cultures I leave to others.'
'I'm glad you do. I'd hate to see a nice spaceman like you become warlike.' She patted his temple.
He smiled wryly. 'Without my spaceship, I am no more a spaceman than you are. Oh, Beth, I do hope for your sake, and all those who knew and loved you and your neighbors, that you can resume your lives, soon. Meanwhile, try to enjoy being my guest.' He gave her a hard press to his cheek equivalent to a giant hug. 'What were you doing in the chair?'
'I was just seeing how far I could fall without hurting myself.'
Slowly he swung her around till they looked in each other's eyes. 'I have some steps you can experiment with.'
It was a spiral stair in a corridor. The first through fifth steps she leaped from, and did not hurt herself. Then she jumped from the sixth. 'Oh!' she cried, staggering. She looked up at Paclua, who had crouched down. 'That one jarred terribly. I'll probably hurt myself if I jump from any higher.'
'Now we know more about your present strengths and limitations,' he remarked. Picking her up, he went to his lab and fed the information into his computer. Then they saw how far up Beth could now jump. About a foot and a half was the highest spring she made. 'I feel like a grasshopper,' she said after several springs across the lab.
Paclua smiled. 'And a very dear little grasshopper you are,' he said affectionately. 'It's time for supper now. Are you as ready for Xenosian treats as I am?' The spaceship's small eating room included a table joined to floor and one end joined to the wall. The food replicator was set into the wall above the table. Five chairs secured to the floor completed the dining arrangement.
'Here is your table, Beth.' Paclua set her down beside an elegant miniature table and chair atop the free end of the large table. Taking a seat close to the replicator end of the table, Paclua ordered a Xenosian meal. Beth took her seat. Again, the table came up to mid-chest, and her feet did not reach the floor.
Responding to the polite 'boop' of the replicator, Paclua took out a tray with a Xenosian meal, a stir-fry of exotic vegetables.
They began eating. The eating utensils he had replicated for her worked fine.
'Now that I have arrived in your town, tomorrow I will be absorbing more earth culture,' he informed her. 'It has been a fascinating study in contrasts so far.'
After the meal, Paclua took Beth back to reading websites. 'I'm going to the communications center, to find out what my mothership is doing,' he told her. This time, Beth asked for NASA information on outer space and the universe.
Paclua came in while she read about blue luminous variables. 'A little good news,' he smiled almost apologetically. 'I don't want to raise your hopes up, but the mothership is still in pursuit.'
Later, she put on her familiar pajamas, and got into the unfamiliar canopy bed. Yes, almost as soft as a regular one. And a third bigger than the one at home. Paclua's immense head stopped by, looked in and smiled sadly. His ultra-deep voice rolled in like moonlit tide. 'Good night. Is it comfortable?'
'Except for feeling four years old again, yes,' she answered, pulling the miniature sheet and quilt to her chin. The quilt draped a little stiffly on a person four inches long, but it was still warm. Blinking his violet eyes, he rose and left the laboratory.
Still dismayed by her new size and situation, pleasant though Paclua tried to make it, and she had to give him points for really trying, Beth had trouble sleeping.
Next day, after learning his mothership was still in pursuit of the Zypraxans, Paclua drove to Davisville Art Museum. Before he entered, Paclua happened to catch the headline in a newspaper machine. 'Looks like they've noticed your disappearance,' he said as he put in two quarters. 'Entire Neighborhood Mysteriously Vanishes,' read the headline. Different friends, relatives and employers had reported Beth's missing neighbors to the police, who in turn discovered all these people had disappeared from that one neighborhood. Beth and Paclua could overhear the furor in the snatches of talk as Paclua absorbed earth culture.
At least the news story jibed with what Paclua had told her.
'They're worried about you,' murmured Paclua.
'At least my boss knows why I didn't show up for work yesterday,' said Beth. This time she was in a vest pocket of crushed red velvet, part of a red suit Paclua wore today.
Next they stopped at the history museum. They stopped at a Japanese restaurant where Beth ate off Paclua's spoon with her tiny utensils. Then they stopped at a local craft store where Beth chose and Paclua purchased several small needlepoint and cross stitch kits to give Beth something else to do. 'How do you get earth money?' Beth asked after he got in the car. 'My people pay me in jewels, platinum, gold or silver, which I sell for earth money,' he replied pleasantly. The next stop was the rock museum and then back to Paclua's ship as the sun set below the hills.
Paclua set Beth in her living quarters. He also set down the plastic bag with the kits he had bought beside her purse. Selecting a picture of a rose, Beth tore open the plastic. The embroidery canvas was nearly as tall as she was. Threading the arm length needle included with the kit was easy at this small size. She touched the Zenosian globe and it lit up. Settling into the oversized armchair, Beth began to cross stitch. It was awkward with such a big canvas, but she managed. Later, she showed her work to Paclua as he mixed chemicals at his table.
'Through already?' he asked.
That evening, she bathed and washed her hair in a blue cup filled with hot water. Her laundry included towels, so she could dry off and wrap her wet hair. Another disadvantage to her size--she couldn't use her blow dryer. Her wet hair would have to air dry.
She slept better that night. Taking Paclua's advice, Beth decided make the best of a bad situation and count her blessings.
'Would you like to stay with me, then?' asked Paclua when she presented that possibility to him next morning. 'We've been trying to keep our presence on earth a secret, but our Xypraxan friends may have rendered that impossible. If we can't get your neighbors back, we can continue to keep our presence secret until the proper time. If we can get them, but cannot restore them to their rightful sizes, we may have to keep you folks with us until we can restore you. And if we can restore all of you right away, we'll have to return you to your lives, and of course you folks will tell others what you have seen, and our presence won't be secret anymore.'
'It certainly won't be,' said Beth. 'Would that be so bad?'
Paclua sighed. 'No. We don't like to have our plans changed against our will, but rescuing you folks and sending you back home is more important than keeping ourselves a secret. But if we cannot restore you to normal size, would you like to stay with me, Beth? I'll admit I've become rather fond of you.'
'You're a lot bigger than me now, but you have been very nice anyway. Someone else might not be so kind,' said Beth. 'I like you, too, dear fellow, and I'd be happy to stay with you.'
Paclua smiled. He reached out thumb and forefinger, took Beth's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. 'Thank you for your trust, Beth. Now, shall we have breakfast?
Once Paclua had her seated, 'I'm young again! I need a booster seat,' she proclaimed, bouncing up and down on her chair at her oversized table.
Paclua smiled and chuckled as he took his seat. 'At least you have a sense of humor.'
Beth smiled back. 'Just trying to take your advice and make the best of a bad situation.'
Smiling wistfully and tenderly, Paclua nodded. 'That's the spirit, Beth. You are a dear little miniature now, but I have you, not the Zypraxans.' After breakfast was served, Paclua pinched out some white crystals from a round container slightly taller than Beth was and sprinkled it over his food with his fingers.
'Is that salt?' Beth asked.
Paclua smiled as he picked up a well-cooked green pod in his fingers. 'Yes. We spacemen need salt as much as you do for good health. I like your custom of keeping salt in a shaker. I might take that idea back to Xenos with me.' He ate the pod with good humor.
'Do you not have anything like pepper on Xenos?' she asked.
'Your pepper tastes very much like zithpur. But with us, salt comes by itself, not paired up with a second spice.'
'What is it like on your planet?'
'Yes, I would like that.
Though somber colors had been fashionable two centuries ago, Prilixans at present favored colorful clothes with more florid, fancy decoration than present-day United States. 'So much so I felt at home at an earthly circus.'
After breakfast, he towered up from his seat and came over to her. 'Did you mean it when you said you would like to stay with me?'
'I can't think of any other giant I would trust more.'
'May I?' He gently scooped her up. Gently but firmly both his hands pressed her against his cheek.
'I don't want this to end.'
'Neither do I. Dear miniature Beth.'
'I love you.'
'Paclua. Part of me protests this complete and utter reversion to babyhood and dependency. But part of me loves being taken care of,' said Beth. 'But---you could die, Paclua. Then what would happen to me? The next person who gets me might not be as nice as you are. And even if you didn't die, what if you dropped me or stepped on me? Accidents do happen despite best intentions. And well I know it! I've cared for enough accident victims to know it.'
'I agree. That's why part of me wants to see you restored to full size, before anything happens to you,' he murmured. 'Though I am enjoying your miniature state while it lasts. You are such a dear little thing.' His cheek swelled gently beneath her as he smiled. 'Are you ready for another ride in my vest pocket?'
'I just thought of something. You are absorbing earth culture?'
'Please take me to my purse.'
Paclua held Beth up to the side compartment of her purse. 'Now I can get into my purse literally,' she commented as she strained to pull the zipper open. It was hard work, but when she pulled it open enough, Beth reached in and tugged out a piece of cardboard taller than she was. Her Tir Na N'Og concert ticket. 'It's at 7:30 Saturday,' she called up to Paclua. 'Would you like to go?'
'Today is Friday,' Paclua said thoughtfully. 'Yes, I would like that very much. 'Tir Na N'Og?''
'I like Celtic music,' she told him.
'I slightly favor classical music over Celtic, but I like Celtic very much, too.' Slipping the ticket back into the side compartment of the purse for safekeeping, he lifted Beth to his vest pocket. Beth slipped in. 'And here you go.' He handed her her coffee mug and fetched her eating utensils from the dining area.
That day they visited a couple of gardens, and some stores. And a couple restaurants. Saturday, they visited more attractions. Then it was time for the concert Beth had been looking forward to.
They weren't sure it was right for two people to get in for the price of one ticket--even though one of them was a very tiny person to whom the music would sound like megabass thunder and so could not enjoy it properly. Paclua compromised by purchasing a child's ticket.
As Beth feared, the concert was mostly megabass thunder to her. But she managed to enjoy what she could get out of it anyway. At least she got to go, after all. And with a gentleman escort at that. Coming back to his ship, Paclua commented, 'Very professional. When one of them broke a string they kept things going by telling jokes and stories. I like that.'
After putting Beth into her quarters, he went to his communication center.
Paclua came into the laboratory with the good news. 'My people captured the Zypraxan ship. You, Beth, are going to take your first trip into space.'
Early next morning after a big breakfast, she stood safe in Paclua's vest pocket as he sat down in the control center of his ship. The great glass shield extended over Paclua's head and off to the sides for a panoramic view of the moon and starlit landscape. Paclua's jacket was open so she could watch his big hands work the controls of his ship. 'Fasch varr gruot!' His verbal command activated the ship's computer. A low hum and vibration permeated all. Outside the window, the rolling hills of Davisville gradually dropped away. Up, up they went. Toward the clouds. The stars. The vastness of space. 'We're on our way, Beth. We meet with my mothership in about a day,' said Paclua, pressed down into his seat by the forces of acceleration. Beth remained standing by forcibly hanging over the edge of Paclua's pocket. The first ray of bright sunlight speared the horizon as the spaceship cleared earth's atmosphere. They were on their way.
'How do you like the ride, Beth?'
'That was thrilling! It makes me nervous, but I love it, too.' Inside, she wondered if she really would regain her right size, or see her family and friends on earth again. But she would not have missed this trip for anything. With Paclua, she relaxed and watched the stars. Once they cleared the solar system though, 'Hyperspace drive,' he commanded the ship's computer in Xenosian. 'Take us to the Hlaxos system.' How the stars flew past!
In what felt like a solar day, they met four spaceships.
'That one,' he pointed at the medium-sized one, 'is my mothership. Two other Xenosian ships have our Zypraxian marauder in tow.'
Paclua maneuvered his shuttlecraft into the mothership's huge landing bay. After he was safely parked, enclosed, and atmosphere pumped into the bay around him, he got out.
Dr. Erya examined Beth exactly as Paclua had done, only her examination was longer and more detailed and thorough.
'I'm a nurse,' Beth told her. 'I'd like to examine my neighbors and see how they're doing.'
Beth's neighbors were staying in a little-used room in an out of the way part of the ship. Several miniature Xenosian-style houses, which looked for all the world as much like fancy decorated cakes as they did houses, made up a charming miniature neighborhood. One Xenosian stood outside the door.
Beth walked up to the closest little house, a round pink one with red and white trims and red and white stained-glass windows, and knocked on the white door.
'Hi, there! It's nice to see someone my own size again! You doing okay?'
'Terrible! I hate this,' said Dan. 'Here I am surrounded by real aliens and real science fiction hardware, and I have to be like this!' Referring to how his shrunken state kept him from going around studying the advanced technology. 'But where have YOU been?'
'I wasn't a guest of the Xypraxans like you because one of the Good Guys got to me first,' said Beth. 'Being shrunken down was bad enough without falling in with the Bad Guys. How did they treat you?'
'Oh, man! It was a nightmare! If we didn't have each other it would have been a worse nightmare,' said Dan. 'They put us in a cage--it was a very BIG cage, but it was a cage. No privacy, even when we had to go to the bathroom. There was one Xypraxan who was nice to us, but there was another one who kept coming in and picking on us when the nice one was gone. These new guys have been treating us better. Their houses are so fancy it's unreal! But what are THEY planning to do with us?'
'Paclua says they're going to try to bring us back to normal size,' said Beth.
Dan anxiously quirked his brow. 'But what if they can't? What if we have to say like this forever?'
'We'll probably have to stay with them,' said Beth truthfully. 'But if they're all like Paclua, at least we'll get better treatment than the Xypraxans would have given us. Let me listen to your heart, Dan.'
So Dan sat down in an overstuffed chair in the living room while Beth put an ear to his chest. Then she did the same to the rest of the Baxters.
Paclua came by and picked Beth up. 'How are they doing?' he whispered.
'Like you said, they're physically okay but very shaken,' said Beth. 'Paclua, why don't you get my clothes from your ship? There may not be enough to go around, and they may not fit, but it's better than letting everyone stay in pajamas.'
Paclua nodded. He left. When Beth spread the word, many came out to wait for the promised day clothing. Paclua returned as Beth chatted with Mrs. Baxter.
'Who's this one?' asked Mrs. Baxter.
'That's Paclua Oideio, the Xenosian who got to me before the Xypraxans did.'
Paclua smiled. He slowly lowered himself to his knees, lay full length on his stomach, and lowered his chin into his clasped hands. 'Hello,' he said to the little people who were gathering to see this new arrival.
'You speak English!' said Dan.
'Yes,' said Paclua pleasantly. 'I've been on your planet for some time. I am truly sorry I did not get to rescue everyone. Only poor Beth, here. Here, I have something for you,' said Paclua. Out of his pocket he brought not only Beth's clothes, but a pile of tiny clothes straight from the replicator.
'Looks like a ringmaster's outfit.' Dan held up a bright red and green long-tailed coat with red pants.
Dan's father found a garish purple suit with swirls of green on the shoulders.
'What are you guys going to do with us?' asked Mrs. Baxter, who picked up one of Beth's party dresses.
'Try to return you to normal size,' answered Paclua. 'Between the data we have gathered and analyzed, and the Zypraxan ship we captured, you have an excellent chance to get your lives back.'
'Oh, that's great,' said Mr. Baxter, who was still ashen and shaken, and was one of the ones worst affected by his alien abduction.
Paclua's brow quirked with pity. 'The experience was hard for you, I see. How did the Zypraxans treat you?' Several of the neighbors began to speak at once, then let Mr. Baxter speak first. Then different members of other families gave their version of what happened.
'I bit the fellow who stole me from my bed,' said the Pierce boy proudly.
'It was awful. They put us in a cage with no privacy,' said Mrs. Pierce.
'Any of you feeling ill effects from the miniaturization?' he asked.
'Too small,' said Mrs. Bleakman, at which several chuckled.
'Dizzy spells,' she added, leaning on Ms. Harcourt the schoolteacher for support.
The Xenosians, to escape Zypraxan reprisals, set course for Xenos with their Zypraxan prisoner in tow. Their earthly guests sampled Xenosian foods and drinks, but mostly rested. Paclua showed Beth and Dan Baxter the science fiction enthusiast through his mothership. After two days, the Xenosians brought them a liquid concoction.
'This, along with the enlarging beams, will counteract the Zypraxan miniaturization process,' Paclua told them. Placing a row of tiny dishes on the floor, he took out and eyedropper and squeezed several drops of the liquid into each dish. The little people were not slow to pick up a dish apiece. As they drank the liquid, Paclua commented, 'That Zypraxan who helped you before--Nanix--was willing to help you again and tell us about the equipment his people used.'
Finally, when they were only a day's travel from Xenos, the Xenosians were ready to reenlarge the abductees. First, they tried their expertise on some of Beth's clothes which had also been dipped in the reenlarging liquid.
'It worked!' Paclua proclaimed, holding up Beth's vest and blouse--full-sized. 'Now--which one of you would like to be first? The first one will be taking a chance,' he warned. 'The Zypraxans may be used to doing it, but we Xenosians are new at this.'
'I'll go first,' said Mrs. Bleakman.
'That's why I should go first. The others have most of their life ahead of them. I'm eighty and have most of it behind me. I'll go first just in case something goes wrong.'
Paclua carried everyone to the mothership's laboratory, but stayed outside while Dr. Erya took Mrs. Bleakman inside. Ten minutes later, Mrs. Bleakman came out smiling by Dr. Erya's side instead of in her palm. She reenlarged with no problem.
Paclua regarded Beth with a warm smile as she stepped out from before the reenlarging ray. 'I'm glad you're your right size again,' His hand lay on his left chest as if part of him missed carrying Beth in his pocket.
'You've captured mine, too, Beth. Can we have dinner in the ship's cafeteria, tonight?'
'I'd be honored, Paclua.'
Dan winked and grinned. 'I think that spaceman likes you, Beth.'
Paclua's mothership returned the abductees to earth, which welcomed the Xenosian heroes with open arms. Especially the science fiction fans of earth! This time, Paclua stayed on earth openly as an ambassador of Xenos. He and Beth still saw each other, and when they decided that their personalities were as compatible as their genetics, Beth became Mrs. Patterson-Oideio and accompanied her charming spaceman back to his planet.