Outside of a local coffee shop a huge black bird pulled its twelve-foot wings back and pushed a puff of air toward me as it landed on the top edge of an iron fence with the grace of a finch. The only difference being the fence was greatly challenged by the two hundred pound bird. The bird oozed into the form of a man and took the chair across the table from mine.
“That was a bit amazing,” I said to the man who had seconds before been the bird. “You can change into anything you want to?”
“With a few restraints,” he answered looking, and sounding, very much like a human.
I made a point of stopping my pen over the yellow lined tablet I was taking notes in and looked at him over the top of my reading glasses, “restraints?” I asked.
“I cannot weigh less than two and a half pounds.”
I looked him up and down and over at the slightly depressed top bar of the wrought iron fence, “so you can weight from two and a half pounds to well over a hundred pounds?”
“I always weigh two and a half pounds,” he answered, looking pleased with himself. I just waited for a proper answer. “I take on ballast.” I waited. “Okay, over half your weight is water, right?” he asked.
“That’s what I’ve been told.”
“I use myself, my two and a half pounds to encapsulate a couple hundred pounds of water and create a fairly decent representation of a man,” he sat up straight in the black steel patio chair and posed. “Don’t you think?” he asked with obvious pride.
“So right now you’re just a big bag of mostly water?”
“Well, thousands of bags really, hundreds of thousands, with hundreds of thousands of strands of string like filaments running here and there so I can move like a human. Watch this”, he appeared to look at me with what appeared to be blue eyes and caused what appeared to be the skin next to his eye to twitch. “That’s control,” he said smugly.
“Do you see through those eyes?” It certainly looked like he was looking at me.
“No, I see in a much more general way, pretty much all of me sees, I can’t compare it to what you do because I have never experienced what you see but I can discern how light is reflected.” He looked down the street and thought for a few seconds. “If you ask me to stop at that light when it turns red I can see a difference between what you call red, green and amber.”
“But all of you that is exposed sees?”
“Right, just like all of me thinks, all of me smells and all of me feels.”
“And all of you tastes,” I added, already writing it down on my tablet.
“No, I can’t taste,” he said, sounding a bit sad.
“But you eat.” I said.
“I can eat, in this form. I can even discharge what I have eaten in a proper human fashion, making what I discharge look just like what a human might create.”
“Okay,” I tried not to think too much about what he had just said. “When you discharge do you lose some of yourself?” I saw my mistake almost as the question came out of my mouth but waited for his reply anyway.
“I always stay the same, I always weigh two and a half pounds. I only discharge what I take on – like ballast.” He watched me for signs of understanding and decided I needed more explanation, “I arrived as a two hundred pound bird because I had already added a mixture of ingredients to myself, mostly water, that would lend themselves to making the appearance of a human.” I must have shown signs of the disbelief I felt because he decided I needed a demonstration. He walked, very convincingly as a human, to the edge of the concrete curb and melted into the form of a black and white spotted chicken, a hen. Several gallons of murky water ran down the gutter. What had appeared as a man fluttered up to the chair across from mine and then transformed back into the form of a man. “That was ballast,” he said pointing to the liquid running down the gutter. His voice had lost much of its resonance but he could still be easily heard and understood. A bit of wind blew across our table and he grabbed the edge of the table with his human looking hands. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I only weight three and a half pounds now, which is a good weight for a chicken but a little light for a man.”
“Thank you for that demonstration, I think I’m beginning to understand what you mean when you say you weigh only two and a half pounds.” He looked just like he had before but I realized he was much more like a balloon now and less a bag of mostly water.
“If you’ll excuse me a moment I’ll go into the rest room and add a little water weight?”
“Sure, I don’t what you to be uncomfortable.” He walked into the coffee shop being careful to keep a hand on handrails and tabletops. He was very light on his feet.
I had just finished updating my notes when he came back looking much more attached to the ground. “That didn’t take as long as I thought it would.” I said. I had visualized him drinking over thirty gallons of water from the sink in the restroom.
“There were two tank type toilets in there. That should be enough to keep me from blowing away. I plan to spend the afternoon as a medium sized dog anyway. Dogs do fairly well on your planet.”
I tried not to think of sitting at a table talking to toilet water. Toilet water from the tank is fairly clean. “What are some other ways you differ from humans?” I asked, very professionally with my pen posed and ready to write.
“In almost every way,” he smiled and revealed teeth that for some reason he had changed from white to purple. “Our, my people’s, needs and motivations are quite different. We have no need of what you refer to as basic necessities. We don’t breath, don’t eat, and don’t have much technology. Our advances are made in thought, imagination is our greatest resource.”
I gave this a moment of consideration and then offered, “so in order to come to our planet you did not build a spaceship?”
“Years ago, one of my kind conceived of space travel. Others of my kind thought of ways space travel might be possible and learned to form themselves into spacecraft. I simply followed their examples.”
“And you became a space ship.”
“No one inside the space ship?”
“No need,” he smiled with bright red teeth this time. “The ship was small, on this planet it weighed only about four pounds and what I need for ballast is easily found here so I can leave any time with just a minimal amount of preparation.”
“So that is why you came here.”
“Exactly, we search the universe for ideas.” He poured himself into a very realistic blond dog, a Labrador mix of some sort. He stood next to the table, his pink tongue hanging out a little and his tail wagging. I couldn’t help but scratch him behind the ears before he left me and padded down the street.