Joe and Marsha started the evening on board a dinner and gambling cruise on Lake Protivin, something Marsha had always wanted to do. The antiquated ocean liner stoically made its way into the setting sun. Reminiscent of its glory days before the Disturbance, it was small by today’s standards, but still capable of holding a thousand people easily. It was used primarily for large galas and fundraisers and was also great for weddings and parties. What space they didn’t have reserved, they then filled with diners and gamblers.
Even though they had just eaten dinner an hour ago, Joe and Marsha partook of the dessert tables. Joe attempted some strange-looking things that turned out to be not too disagreeable. Marsha did have a good laugh after his second return from the buffet line, when she pointed out that a couple of the items on his plate were from the centerpiece and were inedible. Afterwards, they had a cocktail on the stern overlooking the water. The water was calm, and the evening sky was luminescent with stars, reminiscent of the night Joe was abducted.
Near the deck railing, a young couple was trying to enjoy a romantic moment, despite the fact they had to bring their brazen eight-year-old along. After an evening of sitting and listening to adults talk, little Timmy was full of unspent energy. Trying to entertain himself, he climbed the guardrail like a jungle gym. He found himself on the wrong side of the Do Not Sit on the Railing sign, when several crew members, busy with preparing an outside buffet, rushed around the corner carrying a couple of tables. They accidentally ran into the family, knocking the child overboard. He fell into the mandatory safety net that all boats were required to have, but then he slipped through a hole in the poorly-maintained mandatory safety net. Little Timmy landed in the water, struggling to stay afloat.
“Timmy!” the mother screamed.
“Somebody save him!” the father yelled.
Joe grabbed a nearby life disk, a flat, solid floatation device, and threw it over the side of the boat. Simultaneously, he dove over the railing to the dark water fifteen meters below.
“No, Joe, don’t!” Marsha yelled, but it was too late. His feet disappeared over the railing. “Oh macideneb.” She shook with fear. “Alfia’s going to kill me.”
A basic idea of diving off a boat is to get as far away from it as you can, which fortunately allowed Joe to clear the mandatory safety net that he didn’t know was there. Joe passed the net—That’s a good idea—and plunged into the water.
Joe popped up out of the water. Timmy screamed at the sight of an alien popping up out of the water. The lights from the ship cast a dim and eerie glow onto the water, but they, along with the screaming, helped Joe locate the kid. Swimming quickly to the child, Joe tried to calm him down. “It’s okay, it’s okay. Hello. I’m Joe. I’m from Earth.”
Joe helped the kid up onto the life disk. “You’re safe now. Don’t worry. I’ll get you back to your parents. What’s your name?
“Timmy,” he sheepishly answered, shivering with fear.
The boat sailed on past them, and Joe thought out loud, “Shouldn’t the boat be stopping?”
“They can’t, too dangerous.” Timmy’s voice wavered as he trembled.
“What do you mean, dangerous?”
“The lake is filled with peptides.”
“You’ll have to fill me in a little more. I’m new to your planet.”
“Dangerous?” Joes asked.
“Dangerous.” Timmy nervously searched Joe’s eyes for hope. “We’ve been lucky so far. And if I stay up on here, I might survive.”
“And they attack boats, too?”
“No, peptides are too small, and they only eat meat. My science teacher says they can clean the meat off a small animal down to the bones in less than five minutes.” The conversation was starting to distract Timmy from his fear, and he continued, “They wouldn’t let us watch that part of the movie because it’d give us nightmares.”
“So, why didn’t the boat stop?”
“‘Where there’s peptides, there’s gorgons’,” he quoted his science teacher. “And they could eat a ship if they catch one. As long as the boat is moving, they don’t attack. But if the boat stops…” Timmy became quiet and apprehensive. “They did let us watch that part of the movie.”
“Only room for one of us on that disk, isn’t there.” The kid looked at him in terror. “Just kidding, trying to lighten the mood. Didn’t work, did it?” Timmy shook his head slowly. In his most confident voice, Joe said, “I’ll get you home. Let’s head for shore.”
The water was warm, pleasant, and rather still. It was about one kilometer: not a short swim, but a possible swim. The disk had a rope intertwined around its perimeter that allowed Joe to drag the child behind. Timmy stayed up out of the water and centered on the life disk. Alarmed anytime the disk jostled, he sat perfectly still, his arms wrapped tightly around his knees.
“You sure are doing a good job sitting still. It really helps me tow you.”
“I…I don’t want to fall in.” Timmy noticed a strange tone. “Mister, are you humming a 4/4 low bass ostinato in D minor?”
“Can’t help it,” Joe responded. “I’ve seen too many seafaring horror movies.”
They eventually made it to shore. Timmy stayed on the disk until the last possible moment and then scrambled frantically onto Joe to stay out of the surf. Joe just walked out of the water onto the sand, where the kid finally got down and felt safe again. Joe’s jeans and shirt had lots of little holes chewed in it. “Were they like that before?” Timmy asked.
“No.” Joe looked at his clothes curiously.
“Maybe the peptides don’t like the way you taste.”
“We were lucky then?” Joe asked.
“Yeah,” Timmy agreed.
“Let’s get you home.” Joe was happy to be out of the water.
They walked off the beach and followed a narrow access road along the shore, back to the pier where they could see that the cruise ship was just returning. They were only a couple miles from the dock. A helicopter buzzed low over their heads, grabbing their attention as it flew out over the lake. Its searchlight blinked on and followed the path of the gambling boat.
Just then a huge beast, its broad, flat body as large as the ship and whip-like tail covered with boney, shimmering plate, jumped fully out of the water, lured by the searchlight. The beast’s long snout and three rows of dagger-sharp teeth, snapping at the helicopter, were unable to seize its prey. Four muscular flippers, with saber-like claws, slashed wildly at the wind. The gargantuan beast succumbed to gravity and fell back into the lake on its side, creating a huge splash. The resultant waves pounded the shore for several minutes afterward.
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! With eyes of flame…Joe recited to himself, if only I had my vorpal sword. Joe looked at little Timmy, “Gorgon?” he gulped.
“Gorgon,” Timmy confirmed.
“Now I need to change my pants for two reasons,” Joe joked, even though Timmy didn’t get it.
Timmy got tired early on, so Joe carried him on his shoulders the rest of the way.
There was a big uproar in the boarding area when Joe walked in with the kid on his shoulders. The parents quickly grabbed their son, held him, and cried. Marsha, drawn by the excitement, found Joe and hugged him, relieved he wasn’t eaten.
Emergency medical techs brought Joe and Timmy to the waiting ambulance and checked them over. They were a bit confused by Joe’s anatomy but took his word he was okay.
Joe filled out an incident report for the cruise liner’s insurance company. Timmy, enjoying all the attention, was embellishing his experience in the lake.
In a whirlwind of reporters, cameras, lights, and staff, Mayor Nehru arrived to meet Joe. He pushed in front of Marsha for a photo op, shook Joe’s hand, and thanked him for his heroic deed. “Thank you for selflessly jumping into Lake Protivin and defying the gorgon. You truly have lived up to your reputation.” (Mayor Nehru had mistaken Joe for a television character, which confused Joe a little.) “I’d like to present you with the Ngorongoro Medal of Honor. It is the highest honor I can bestow upon an individual.” The mayor draped the medal around Joe’s neck and then leaned into the frame so lots of pictures could be taken.
“Is there anything I can do for you to make your stay more comfortable?” Mayor Nehru asked as the flashes subsided.
“Well.” Joe looked at his clothes. “I could use some new clothes. These took a beating in the lake.”
“Say no more. Come, I have my car close by.” The mayor grabbed Joe’s arm and started to pull him along.
“But wait!” Joe protested gallantly. “My escort.”
Joe held out a hand to Marsha, and the crowd of photographers and cameras parted like the Red Sea. She walked up and took his hand shyly, and Joe introduced her. “This is Marsha. She has been my escort tonight. I would be remiss to allow her to be left behind.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mayor Nehru.” Marsha shook his hand.
“The pleasure is mine, dear lady. You are not only a hero but also a true gentleman, indeed. Please, both of you be my guests tonight.” After a few more pictures, the mayor escorted them to his automobile, where he made a few quick phone calls. A short time later, the swankiest clothier in town reopened just for Joe, where he was fitted with a suit by Ladascus’s finest tailor.
“I look good,” Joe commented into the full-length mirror.
“Macideneb good.” Marsha nodded her approval.
“And of course, now that I’m so dapper and debonair, may I impose on you to equally adorn my escort. It would only be fitting.”
“But of course,” Mayor Nehru agreed, and after a wink and a nod to the haberdasher, in moments Marsha was equally stunning. A few more photos appeased the tailor, who then quickly posted them in every ad he had running.
While they were being fitted, the mayor spent every moment on the phone with his constituents, setting up “chance” meetings with Joe. He planned to escort Joe and Marsha to many nightclubs and events to take advantage of every photo opportunity.
First up for the night was the Ullamaliztli game at the arena. They found themselves in box seats at midfield, and Joe was given the honor of throwing out the first ball. A double-handed overhead throw to the home team, and the crowd cheered, as the player hip-bumped it into play. It was an odd game that Joe never did quite figure out. So, to keep from looking foolish, he cheered when Marsha cheered, and he booed when Marsha booed.
Mayor Nehru then whisked them off to the Ladascan opera house, where they saw the season’s biggest hit. Joe thought to himself, This language translator would come in handy at an Earth opera if I were ever to go. They all got to meet the actors backstage.
Touring the city’s finest art museum, Joe found himself facing a wall of fine Ladascan art, including a portrait of a lady with a quirky little smile and another of an older couple outside their farmhouse. How oddly familiar and yet alien these paintings are, he thought.
As Joe and Marsha left the museum, she pointed to the two Shooman Towers. “Look, Joe, you’ve started a new sport.”
The extreme sports headquarters in the Edward Shooman Tower had already draped a huge banner along one side, reading: Extreme Swimming! Just Like on Earth!
Marsha continued, “I’d tell you the story of the two Shooman brothers, but that would be redundant.”
At an exclusive nightclub for the rich and the powerful, the affluent and the opulent, the crème de la crème of Ngorongoro, Joe danced with many powerful women. At one point he found himself awkwardly avoiding the advances of a very lascivious opera diva. Marsha danced with many powerful men. Mr. D. Adams, the owner of the Ullamaliztli team, took a fancy to her, and she gave him her number. The hour grew late, and Mayor Nehru made his apologies; he had a city to run. He made his exit, but not before slipping in one more photo op with Joe, Marsha, and the aristocrats.
Joe and Marsha had developed a large entourage by now, and the group walked along the streets of the city. Passing the large picture window of a toy shop, Joe caught sight of a giant Uluru and jumped back in fright. Marsha laughed. Joe blushed when he noticed it was a stuffed toy.
The press caught the moment on video and posted it instantly, with the headline “Gorgons Don’t Frighten Him, but Ulurues Do.”
They took a break from the whirlwind tour of the city by enjoying a pastry and coffee at a sidewalk café, the streets of the city still teaming with activity.
“This is almost as good as a night on Rush and Division,” Joe declared, as he noticed a mime behind Marsha re-enacting Joe’s reaction to the Uluru in the window. At that moment, he knew it was what he would be remembered for.
Alfia returned to a dark house, as it should be at that late hour. She parked in the driveway, so the noise of the garage door opening wouldn’t disturb her mother, a trick she had learned as a teen. She felt bad about imposing Joe on her mother. I’ll apologize in the morning by making an extra-special breakfast. She went to bed.