Expatriate

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Roy Gredenski grinned as his rookies roared with laughter at his latest tale. He was celebrating his thirtieth year in the Customs and Immigration Department.

“Roy, do you have any other stories for the youngsters?” grinned his captain, Joe Werner, from the back of the room, where his other senior colleagues were sitting. They'd heard them all before but the tales only seemed to get better with each retelling.

Roy paused, looking around at the young, eager faces surrounding him.

“Well, there is one story,” he said quietly and paused.

He looked down at the floor, as if trying to decide how — or whether — to tell it. The room went quiet, his audience waiting, respectfully. Then, amazingly, Roy seemed to be on the verge of weeping.

“What is it Roy?” asked Joe, coming forward with some surprise and concern. There were soft sounds of sobbing coming from Roy by now.

“God, I didn't know,” he gasped. “How would anyone have known?” he whispered.

Joe quickly ushered all the cadets out of the room. His remaining senior colleagues brought their chairs closer to Roy then sat and waited. After a few minutes, Roy raised his eyes and looked around at them, gratefully.

“My dear friends,” he said softly. “After I tell you this, you won't want to know me.”

“Go on, Roy,” said Joe, who was sitting beside him, patting him gently on the back. “What is it?”

“Joe, you remember the first Moon Base Spaceport?”

Joe nodded.

“Well, you and I were both rookies the year it opened? Remember?”

“Yeah, I remember. What chaos!” he laughed. “Will, you were also there with us, weren't you?”

Will Devine, the second-in-command, nodded. “Yeah, that was some opening. We had lines that seemed to stretch all the way back to Earth, waiting to clear immigration. There were all sorts — businessmen, scientists, tourists, school kids — all wanting a peek at the Moon. We should have sold tickets!”

“Yeah, well, for the rest of you who weren't there, Joe and Will were out front with the travellers. I was in the back, in the hot-room — where we dealt with, you know, any suspicious characters.”

Roy flashed them all a knowing wink that produced a few grins. He seemed to have recovered some of his old self.

“Do either of you remember that guy you brought in to me that day? You know, that tall, skinny guy with a funny face? You were both annoyed that he didn't have any papers.”

“Yeah, that was the damndest thing. Not only did he not have any travel documents, he looked like something that had just stepped out of one of those old Frankenstein movies — like plastic surgery gone wrong,” said Joe with feeling.

Will nodded vigorously in agreement. “Actually, we were really just mad because he just wasn't aware of the trouble he was causing for us. He seemed to have no idea that he needed some sort of travel document to get into the base. He was just like a kid — but didn't look like one,” he finished with a shudder.

Roy sighed. “Well, whatever the reason, you guys brought him to me. That's where it started.”

He paused a little before going on.

“You guys were right. He looked like someone had put him together wrong. In fact he was so weird I did a strip search on him — not because I thought he was really carrying any drugs, but because I just wanted to see the rest of him.”

“And?” prompted Joe, curious.

“God, he really was a Frankenstein's monster! His ears and eyes weren't even at the same level. He actually had two left feet — and two right hands. And, man, he had no anus! There was just a dimple where it was supposed to be! I felt so sick I wanted to vomit.”

He paused again.

“What happened next Roy?” asked Will.

“Well, I'm sure any of you would have reacted the same way,” said Roy defensively, glancing around quickly as if for confirmation. “That thing touched me!” He gasped suddenly, as if suddenly short of breath.

“Roy, what did you do?” Joe asked, with sudden dread.

“I lost it, guys. His touch was so cold and ... well, before I knew it I had hit him with my riot stick. It was just a reflex reaction.”

There was a collective intake of breath.

“Roy, you told us that you sent him through after some further questioning — you said you were satisfied with his answers,” Joe said in disbelief.

Roy seemed not to have heard him.

“He didn't bleed — well not blood anyway. His body just seemed to burst with that first strike, like a waterbed. This grey liquid seemed to come out of his eyes and nose — like he was leaking. After that, I did vomit. By the time I had got back to clean up the mess, his body seemed to have dissolved in my vomit.”

There was another short silence then Roy looked around at them.

“When I searched his bag, you know what I found? You'll never believe this, so I'll show you.”

He went over to his locker, unlocked it and took out an old envelope. He slid out what was inside and held it up for the group to see.

There was another collective gasp from the group.

“Isn't that ...? Yeah, it is! I remember seeing it in books when I was at school. It's the welcome disc from that Voyager spaceship that was sent out hundreds of years ago!” said Joe, in awe.

“Yeah, it is,” said Roy, starting to weep again.

This time, no one tried to comfort him.

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Tang, J. Expatriate. Nature 460, 772 (2009) doi:10.1038/460772a

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