Sunday, September 20, 2009

Recipe challenge

Readers of Distant Cousin: Reincarnation will remember, especially if they are interested in cooking, a recipe for a variation of meatloaf which was mentioned in chapter 2 only in passing:

“It’s the spices, Mom, thyme and garlic, and some grated parmesan, and an Egyptian grain called kamut. And an extra-dry red wine instead of Worcestershire sauce. I would have added some whole cloves, only I couldn’t find any. It was Darcy’s idea—you know that cookbook she’s working on?”

It's an intriguing recipe, but as far as I know no one has ever tried to create it. I certainly haven't: I've never seen kamut, and I'd have no idea of quantities or other variables. Perhaps quinoa (a Peruvian grain) could be substituted--I have no idea. (If you must know, the recipe was thought up by a wonderfully creative cook, but a vegetarian, who would never fix meatloaf.)

Surely some readers out there are adventurous cooks. If this dish sounds like something you might like, why not give it a try? Mind you, the humble editor of this blog disavows all responsibility for the results--but if it's good, if it's interesting, please let us all know, and include the particulars of your version, please. I mean, how many recipes do you have which come from someone from another planet? You may find people lining up for it!

See lots of other recipe ideas in the column on the right under the photo of the cranberry-apple pie!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Distant Cousin: Reincarnation (3), Reviews

Well, we knew it was going to happen. There were hints in the second novel of the Distant Cousin series, and so it is no surprise that in the third novel, Darcy's greatest fears are realized. Her cold and greedy brother-in-law, Herecyn Cymred, has sold the wrong sort of Thoman technology to the wrong sort of person and a weapon of devastating destruction has resulted. Herecyn denies it, of course, but when the Russian mafia tries to eliminate Ana Darcy, the only person who has made the connection, the truth of the matter is obvious.

Author Al Past revs up the action in this third installment of the Distant Cousin series. After seven years of quiet family bliss on the secluded Mendez homestead, hidden in the heart of New Mexico, Darcy once again sacrifices her retirement from public life in order to guard against disaster. As the very first representative from another planet on Earth, Darcy takes it personally to think that technology from her homeworld might be used against mankind. While dodging assassination attempts from hired mercenaries, Darcy plies a little detective work to identify the source of the threat: A Russian oligarch has developed the Thoman technology into a weapon which was promptly tested on remote villages in the tiny territory of Sedlakia, with horrifying results. The US government is loath to interfere, but that doesn't stop one little firebrand of a woman from planning a 2-man mission to save Sedlakia--and possibly the world.

Reincarnation reprises a multitude of characters from the first two books, including government agents, high-powered lawyers, an investigative reporter, and a certain Sicilian "businessman" who once saved Darcy's life. It also introduces a few new characters, such as the Navy SEAL recruited by Darcy for the Sedlaki mission and her own precocious twins, Clio and Julio. Readers get a glimpse inside the personal relationships of the Thoman delegation, which include Darcy's sister and uncle, as well as a thrilling and dangerous adventure in the frozen wilds of Russia. Interspersed with the fast-paced action, we find Darcy's husband Matt holding down the fort at home, supervising the education of his amazing, half-Thoman children, and working out wily plans to preserve their anonymity in the face of Darcy's increasingly public image. And if this is not enough, readers can ponder the significance of the close connection between the Thoman and Sedlaki languages, as well as a certain Sedlaki legend of an ancient queen named Anina Khralovna, who left her people long ago with the promise to return when she was needed ... Highly recommended, but you need to start with Book One! (High Spirits Book)


...a third-in-a-row rave review....
It is high time readers had a real heroine. Why does a reader like myself, not to mention a host of others, enjoy Darcy's narrow escapes and stunning triumphs? First of all, men, women, and teenagers can identify with and root for a mere slip of a girl who has the courage to face big-time villains. That she happens to be a descendant of Earthlings who immigrated to another planet centuries ago and are hence our distant cousins, only adds to our fascination.
Concerned in book one, "Distant Cousin," about a danger to planet Earth, Darcy lands near Fort Davis, in the lap of McDonald Observatory. Can you imagine, scientists and goverhment bureaucrats spurn her urgent message! Darcy has to climb to Olympic heights to get the attention of the right people. In the midst of her struggle, she falls in love with Mr. Right, Matt Mendez, a reporter for the Alpine Avalanche.
Pity the bad guys who try to stop Darcy! She does her best to avoid violence. Indeed, she would much rather outwit a villain than conk him over the head. However, when necessary, this petite little blond can teach her opponents an unforgettable lesson. Hurrah! The power of good over evil is reaffirmed!
Al Past's third book, "Distant Cousin: Reincarnation," begins some eight years after our herioin's initial victories.
Darcy, her husband Matt, and their bilingual twins are living incognito, on a country road near the village of Mesilla, not far from La Union, N.M. It would be unforgivable to say any more than something has gone terribly wrong in the small country of Sedlakia, near Kazakhstan. Darcy's kinsmen have accidentally given terrorists a deadly weapon that must be wrested from the Russian Mafia.
The setting and the characters west of the Pecos, up east, and in the mountains of Central Asia are both realistic and delightful. Although Darcy faces evil, she stands in the light, a true champion of what is right and good. Even the most ardent fants of Harry Potter speak of a growing darkness but Darcy's adventures are nevr dark. And I absolutely guarantee, that like Al's first two novels, you will not be able to put this third book down!
Margaret Moser, Beeville Bee-Picayune, Aug. 29, 2007


This is the third book in the Distant Cousin series of scifi tales starring the Barbie from outer space, Ana Darcy, and her faithful sidekick and native son of Albuquerque, Matt Mendez. As with the first book in this series, I give it ten stars. Yeah, that's right, ten. Reincarnation takes the reader to Nowhere, New Mexico, again, and like Dorothy said, there's no place like home. You'd hide out there, too, if you were an international celebrity who just wanted to live a quiet, peaceful lifestyle. How quiet can things really be when you have a space pod stashed in your barn?

I would never recommend that a reader first meet the Mendez family with this book. You need to start at the beginning of the first book, when Matt was just a bored journalist in Alpine, Texas, about to meet the love of his life in the local library. The Distant Cousin storyline is somewhat quiet and emotional, just like the lives the lead characters seek. The plot of this third book involves the FBI, the CIA, and a retired Navy SEAL, all trying to make the Russians behave themselves instead of blowing up some highly populated chunk of America. Although Reincarnation is a little slower paced than its Repatriation predecessor, the new characters and subplots help Darcy fly that space pod right into your heart!

The most distinguishing trademark of Al Past's Distant Cousin books is their obvious similarity to some of Steven Spielberg's best movies. Ana Darcy is much like E.T. without the Disney cuteness or childhood orientation. She is an E.T.-type character for an adult audience. The sense of wonder we all had the first time we watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind is magically reincarnated. Reading all the Distant Cousin books is like playing a movie in your head. This is the way we want life to be. This is the way we want Americans to respond to aliens if they ever arrive on Earth. Reincarnation rekindles amazement. Life should always be like this. (PODBRAM)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Distant Cousin: Regeneration now published!

Here's the cover. (Click to enlarge.) More information is in the quick link here.

Pictures: Durham, NC

Here is the home of Dr. Charles Hodge, who figures in Distant Cousin. He hosts Earth's first extraterrestrial visitor in style! (She allows herself to be examined at Duke University's medical center.)

Pictures: West Texas

The Jersey Lily is a reconstruction of Judge Roy Bean's courthouse & bar in Langtry, Texas. That and the Pecos River canyon and bridge figure in Distant Cousin. The middle picture is taken from the Trans-Mountain Road in El Paso, looking north toward Las Cruces. It's a shortcut from the El Paso airport to Las Cruces. (Right click and enlarge in another tab.)

Pictures: Mesilla Plaza, desert west of Mesilla

San Albino church, on the Mesilla Plaza, a field along the river, with the desert sand dunes in the background, and the desert itself, thirty miles west of the river. (Right click to enlarge in another tab and not lose your place.) These venues figure in all the stories.

Pictures: El Paso, New Mexican food

The top photo shows the interstate highway south of El Paso, toward Dallas and San Antonio. (Click to enlarge.) In Distant Cousin, Ana ran alongside it, starting from where the long, southern stretch begins, and continuing where it curves to the left, another twenty miles or so, to the rest stop. A long run!

There are more photos, including southern New Mexico and Ana's first sights on Earth, in the right column under the photo of the blue-eyed kitty.

Pictures: Southern New Mexico, Part 1

A satellite shot of just one of the many pecan groves along the Rio Grande, a ground-level shot of one grove under irrigation, and a picture of an irrigation canal looking south toward El Paso, with the Franklin Mountains, 40 miles away, on the horizon. (Right click to enlarge in another tab.) These locations figure in all Ana's stories, and there are many more in the column on the right, under the photo of the blue-eyed kitty.

Pictures: Mesilla, New Mexico, Plaza & Buildings, Part 2

These venues figure in all Ana's stories; all are from the Mesilla Valley, where the Rio Grande flows from New Mexico into Texas.

See many more location photos in the column on the right under the picture of the blue-eyed kitty.

Now, meet Ana Darcy!

Pictures: Fort Davis Cavalry Post

Matt had just photographed a wedding when we first meet him in Distant Cousin. The groomsmen were dressed as cavalry officers, and the reception would have been in one of the restored officers' houses (background in the photo: click to enlarge).

More of what Ana saw first

More venues from the books are in the right column under the
photo of the blue-eyed kitty

Meet Ana Darcy!

Pictures: Ana Darcy's First Sights

First picture: the McDonald Observatory from the highway below
Second picture:
The old observatory dome, where the offices are
Third picture:
View From the Observatory looking south toward Alpine
Fourth picture: Ladybugs. Why do they do this? No idea....
(Right click to enlarge in another tab and keep your place.)

Also: What Ana saw along the El Paso freeway: 1 2 3

What Matt saw while searching for Ana (DC1)

Meet Ana Darcy!

(See other photos in right column-->)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Recipe: Easy, Outstanding Salsa

Traditionally, this recipe was more trouble. Matt's ancestors used fresh tomatoes and roasted the jalapeno over a fire, but this version is 99% as good, doesn't separate in the bowl, and only takes five minutes! (The picture shows a triple batch being prepared--it freezes well, too.)

Into a blender, pour
* one 14 oz. can of whole, peeled tomatoes
* 1 t. white vinegar
* 1 t. salt
* 4 or 5 cloves of garlic, chopped (or use minced, from a jar, 1 heaping T.)
* dash or two of ground black pepper
* jalapeno slices, to taste. You can use other kinds of peppers, and a little or a lot of jalapeno. You're on own your own here!
* a fistful of fresh cilantro (still good if left out, but better included)
* 1/2 t. liquid mesquite smoke (w. the barbecue sauce, sometimes in specialty stores) (may be omitted also, but adds an exotic, subtle smoky flavor)
* optional squeeze of lime juice. Improves the focus!

Blend briefly, pour and serve.

More recipes, including some of Ana's innovative combinations, are in the column on the right, under the photo of cranberry-apple pie a la mode!

Meet Ana!

Recipe: Mendez Family Frijoles

This is a traditional recipe for frijoles, traceable to cattle drive chuck wagon cooks. (The comino was suggested by someone from out of this world!)

Clean and wash as many pinto beans as you want to prepare. 4 c. makes a full pot, and that's a lot of beans, but they're good left over. Pour them into a traditional bean pot if you have one (see picture), or a heavy pot of whatever kind, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and keep them simmering. Do not stir! It mashes the beans! But do add water from time to time to keep the beans covered. Let simmer for 45 minutes-1 hour.

Add your choice of salt pork, bacon, sausage, ham fat, or even olive oil. A handful will do it, or 2 oz. of olive oil. Simmer another 45 minutes-1 hour.

Add garlic, a lot: four, five, six cloves, diced (or minced, a couple heaping T.) Simmer another 45 minutes-1 hour.

Add oregano. If ground, 1 rounded t.; if crumbled, 1 rounded T.

Add 1 rounded t. ground comino (cumin). This is the secret ingredient that gives the frijoles an exotic flavor.

Add 8-12 dried, crumbled chili pequines, for heat. Use more or less to taste, but it doesn't take many of these. Other kinds of peppers can be used as well: jalapenos, serranos, etc., but always to taste! Simmer another 45 minutes-1 hour.

Add 2 or 3 t. salt. Simmer another half hour or so. A taste test should indicate the beans are soft and cooked. If so, that's it!

See many more unusual, exotic recipe ideas in the right column under the photo of the cranberry-apple pie.

Maps (click): El Paso and Mesilla Valley, West Texas, Ft. Davis & Observatory

(If you right click a map to open in its own tab, you won't lose your place in the narrative!)

Ana Darcy Méndez's stories have taken her all over the world, but the map above zeroes in on the area around her home base (at top, just south of Las Cruces and Mesilla, New Mexico, in the dark areas which are enormous groves of pecan trees in the Rio Grande River valley). Distant Cousin: Recirculation takes her to Mata Ortiz, a tiny Mexican town south of Columbus New Mexico (on the border), further down Mexican Highway 2.

The second and third maps above show West Texas venues from Distant Cousin and Distant Cousin: Reincarnation. Ana first came to earth and landed in the mountains to the northwest of Fort Davis, Texas (map #3). The McDonald Observatory is where Ana expected to be greeted by astronomers who would welcome her as the first human to return to the home planet. That did not happen, of course.

The fourth map above shows the highways from Alpine to El Paso, Lac Cruces, and Mesilla., which Ana has driven several times. Note the few towns along this 200+ mile distance: Valentine, Marfa, and Van Horn.

See more maps and photos from the venues in the books down the right column.under the photo of Ana's hair.

Maps of West Texas & Southern New Mexico

The map above (really a satellite photo) shows Las Cruces, New Mexico at the top. (RIght click to another tab for the full size image.) Our extraterrestrial heroine, Ana Darcy, lives among the green pecan groves which follow the Rio Grande just south of Las Cruces with her husband and family. See Distant Cousin for more about her!

Below is a photo of west Texas south of El Paso (seen above). (Right click to another tab to see the entire map.) The white patch on the road leaving Fort Davis (the red "A"), going up (north) diagonally to the left, shows the approximate location of the McDonald Observatory, where Ana first landed on Earth (and was kicked out, being thought crazy). The road south from Fort Davis (diagonally down to the right) leads to Alpine, where Ana hid from the FBI, local police, and Army Special Forces. The road crosses some mountains (the darker areas), to the right of which is the approximate location of the Williams ranch, which appears in Distant Cousin, Distant Cousin: Reincarnation, and Distant Cousin: Regeneration.

See more maps and photos from the stories in the column on the right.

Now, meet Ana Darcy!

An Interview with Ana Darcy Mendez

An Interview with Ana Darcy Mendez

Ana Darcy Mendez, of the Distant Cousin series, is the first alien to have come to Earth from another planet. She is a human alien, though, since her people originally lived on Earth over 3,000 years ago. She graciously consented to this interview in the interest of promoting the amicable unity of her fellow Thomans and the peoples of Earth. The questions were submitted by her fans (whose initials appear after each). Her responses have been minimally edited by Al Past.

If you are new to the books, meet Ana!

1. What was the most amazing and astonishing thing that you discovered when you first set foot on earth? (CH)
Oh, my. It was the majesty of Earth, the overwhelming beauty that struck me immediately. When I arrived, I was terrified. I had lived for so many years in a tiny place. Then the passage through the atmosphere was very violent, and I was afraid the escape pod was being destroyed. I didn't know if I had landed at the right place, or if something might attack me when I opened the hatch. My first sensation was the feeling and the smell of the west Texas night-time air, crisp and fragrant, cool and dry. (Later I learned the aroma was from the juniper trees and creosote bushes.) When I climbed to the top of the ridge and saw the dawn, with the mountains and lights far in the distance, lying peacefully under the dome of the stars, it was so beautiful. I realized I was home; our people were home at last. I will never forget that.

2. Ms. Darcy, besides being a woman of extraordinary talent and intelligence, you seem to have the knack for bringing out the very best in everyone with whom you interact. Do you consciously seek to do this, or is it merely the positive effect your own personality has on others? (JW)

You do me too much honor. Thank you! I do not consciously use any particular strategy when dealing with other persons. People generally respond well to respectful treatment. Not all do, to be sure, neither here nor on Thomo, but most do. I like to be treated that way myself. It's a different matter when I am in public as myself, however. Celebrities seem accorded great license. It is often a burden.

3. Ana, I am always impressed by your character, your determination to do the right thing. You act like a serious Christian and I wonder, have you and your husband ever thought about taking your children to church? He must have been a Roman Catholic and taking your children to his church would seem natural and it would help them understand the culture too. (MM)

Yes, my husband was raised in a Roman Catholic family. He tells me they were "relaxed" about it (his word). His father is an independent-thinking gentleman, and I believe his son is much the same. As for myself, while I have been fascinated by Earth's religions, I have not found myself drawn to any to the extent of abandoning my own. I do believe there is a creator of the cosmos, but I cannot claim to understand its nature, nor can I believe that the creator has an awareness of us as individuals. But I do know the universe is orderly, even the parts we do not understand. The source of that order has to be the creator. It falls to us, as parts of that creation, to honor and maintain it in harmony, and to assist others in doing the same.

Our children have attended Roman Catholic services with their grandmother, as well as services at a number of other places of worship. They are aware of a great number of belief systems. As they mature, I expect they will be able to choose the paths that best fulfills them.

Followup question: Did you have anything like a religion on your home planet? Or did you study ethics and morals? Meditation? Anything of a spiritual nature? (MM)

Oh, yes, of course we have religion! Surely, that's one thing that distinguishes us as humans! The first of us to arrive on Thomo were animists, believing that objects and the phenomena of nature had spirits. Those beliefs were shaken by our translation from Earth to Thomo. Over time this system coalesced into worship of a dual supreme being, cosmic heads of clans, in effect. In more recent times, approximately 600 years ago, the two entities gradually melded into a single deity. Today, most Thomans believe in an abstract deity. It reminds me of what I have read of the American Indians' concept of a "Great Spirit." Many Thomans attribute a consciousness to this spirit; some do not. We disagree among ourselves about a great many things, but theology, fortunately, is seldom one of those.
As to ethics, morality, and the other branches of philosophy, yes, there are those of us who ponder these matters. Again, how could one be human and not ponder them? Meditation is not practiced as a separate technique. I suspect that the various schools of meditation on Earth are a function of your many cultures. Thomo, unfortunately, is homogeneous, and lacks the variety and richness of your cultural resources.

4. Your native language, Luvit, fascinates me, Ms. Darcy. Could you briefly explain its relationship to Earth's languages? How many languages do you speak yourself, presently? (BS)

I'll try! Luvit has been determined to be a separate branch of Indo-European, which is one of the 15 super-families of Earth's languages. Within the Indo-European family, English belongs to the Germanic branch. Russian and Polish belong to the Slavic branch. Luvit shares characteristics with both, and therefore must have branched off from Proto-Indo-European a very long time ago, perhaps 3000 years. Linguists have found it a useful source of data to recreate the original Proto-Indo-European language, which has disappeared without a trace. It is an additional benefit that since the separation, Luvit has not been affected by contact with any other human language. Though it has changed over the centuries as all languages do, it offers a much closer and purer tie to the linguistic parent of all European and Scandinavian languages, as well as Hindi and and Iranian and Afghani. I owe a great debt for this explanation to Dr. William Sledd, philologist and linguist, who together with a team of linguists, studied Luvit in great detail. I served mainly as their informant.

As for my other languages, I am most fluent in Luvit and English. I also have passing familiarity with French and Spanish, as well as very elementary abilities in Czech, Russian, Sedlak, Hindi, Japanese, and Chinese, which I studied privately for some years.

5. What stories and legends do your people have about the race which removed you from Earth and about the journey from Earth to Thomo? Did the alien race that transplanted your people to Thomo give you any assistance for survival on the new planet? Have your people ever encountered any artifacts of that alien race on Thomo? (DS)

We have only the most basic conjecture as to the beings who took our earliest ancestors to Thomo. At the time, we were not literate and not experienced enough to understand what we were going through. At first the travelers' memories were preserved in oral verses, passing through several generations, until being written down. Here is what little we know.
No one ever saw the beings directly, because they wore some sort of covering. Surviving drawings and legends indicate they were large, perhaps half again as tall as humans and maybe three times the weight of a human. We do not know if the covering was so they could remain hidden or because Earth's atmosphere, and Thomo's, might have been harmful to them. We know nothing about the method of transport, only that our ancestors were treated well. We were approximately 1300 in number.
Thoman history is counted in generations as well as in Thoman years, which would be meaningless to you (although they are 14.7 Earth months long). When I left Thomo, we were in the 162nd generation, with a generation counting as 20 Earth years. According to our stories, the beings returned seven times, the last being in the 14th generation. After that, they communicated electronically through the 65th generation. Since then we have heard nothing from them. We don't know if they disappeared or if they are still following our affairs. If they are, we have been unable to detect it.
The first generations had a very hard time. Many died. Gradually, the beings (the Thoman word for them is the Others) supplied assistance and technology. A writing system was created. Agriculture was developed. (Our ancestors had been nomads.) Civil engineering began. Over the generations, materials technology, tool making, electricity, medicine, and basic physics were introduced. The Others never spoke to us with sounds. Since the 85th generation, we have been on our own, inventing and innovating without further help. Thus, if Thomans are more advanced in some respects than the people of Earth, it is not necessarily because we are smarter. We had help!
We have no artifacts of the Others whatsoever, beyond the developments they fostered. We don't know why they moved us to Thomo. Perhaps most significantly, we do know that there is at least one race of alien beings besides humans in the universe. That has had a great impact on our thought.

6. What is the native wildlife on your planet? What is the climate on your planet? (DS)
7. Ana, I understand you don't have dogs on your home planet - what do you think of them? (RH)

The Others did an impressive job of selecting a planet similar enough to Earth that humans could live there, after a period of adjustment, to be sure. Thomo's surface area is 1.4 times the size of Earth's, yet the planet's mass is only 1.2 times as great. Our gravity is slightly more, for that reason. It has a molten iron core, like Earth, and tectonic movement in the plates on its surface (and also earthquakes and volcanoes). Our atmosphere has a little less nitrogen, and a little more oxygen, than Earth, and we have no problem with carbon dioxide in our environment. There are nine continents totaling a little less than Earth's land area. That means we have considerably more ocean area, which influences our weather systems. Our poles are cold and our equatorial areas are warm.
The range of our climate is slightly more extreme than Earth's: the poles are colder, the deserts are drier, and the vegetated areas are more concentrated. We have large, temperate plains, good for agriculture.
There is a range of wildlife not unlike that of Earth, which seems logical to me. Biologists speak of "niches" which animals have evolved to fill, and our wildlife and plant life fill them much as they do here. At the same time, our animals and plants are not the same. I am not an expert, but I can say that all are based upon similar biological processes: cells, chromosomes, and DNA. Again, though these are only similar, and your biologists are busy studying the differences.
RH has asked about dogs, for example. We do not have dogs, in the form of canis familiaris. Yet we do have animals you would say were dog-like. The biggest of these is a wolf-like creature the size of a horse. They are hunters, carnivorous, and very clever. They have large fangs for capturing prey, paws which can seize small animals, and rows of spines down their backs. Thomans have populated three of Thomo's nine continents and finally cleared them of these creatures, and other dangerous animals. (They exist unmolested on three of the other six continents.) Our folklore and our cultural memory accords these beasts great importance. Mentioning them is a sure way to frighten young children! On Earth, I had to overcome my ingrained fear of your dogs. It turned out that acquiring a pair of sweet, young puppies helped me adjust. But I still do not like most other dogs.
I cannot begin to catalog our animals and plants. Suffice it to say that there is a wide range of herbivores and a smaller number of carnivores. A visitor from Earth would be most impressed by our larger herbivores, much larger than elephants, and our sea creatures, which encompass a similar range. A biologist could devote many careers to studying our tiny creatures. Our equivalent of your insects are even more diverse than Earth's. I can't begin to cover the microbes, which have caused us more trouble than any other life forms. They may account for my own robust immune system!

8. Who were the most important leaders on your planet? (DS)

Oh, dear. That would be like listing the most important leaders on Earth! But, now that I think of it, I suppose that would be possible. However, the list would either be very long, or very incomplete. Allow me to mention only a few, if you please.
The first important Thoman leader was from Second Generation. His name was Unskett. The Others, you see, didn't understand about tribes. They transferred members of four different ones, which was a big problem. Unskett was a Counselor, not a Warrior, and his skills at compromise and accommodation enabled everyone to work together, just in time to avoid extinction. That skill has characterized Thoman tribal society ever since. Today, my Uncle Rothan, Thoman Ambassador to Earth, has found his abilities at negotiation helpful in resolving several conflicts here on Earth. These skills fall in a direct line from Unskett.
In the 13th Generation, Ferent, an early Thoman scientist, founded a system of schools to preserve and increase our hard-won knowledge. Most of Ferent's ideas are still in effect on Thomo: beginning education early, with an emphasis on practical knowledge, including science and mathematics. Education is just as important as health care in our system, and as costly.
Hleryn, in the 15th Generation, built on the works of Ferent and established libraries for the new works that were written down. These institutions were, and still are, associated with our schools. He also fostered the transcribing of our legends and epics, and began cultivating the arts, which continues today.
There were many other notable leaders in dozens of areas in the succeeding hundred generations. I'll mention just two. The first is Tereis Debergh, in the 19th Generation. Women were always important since Thomans were so few, but she was the first to actually lead a tribe. (Note that by her generation we were numerous enough to require surnames.) Many women followed, and today women head nearly half the tribes of Thomo. The second, and I must beg your pardon for this, is my father, Heoren Darshiell, of the 160th Generation. He was Chief of Clans when the first signals from Earth were detected. This news set off great excitement among our people, and he was the one most responsible for guiding the effort to launch the voyage of discovery that I was privileged to undertake. He brought our people full circle. Whatever happens in the future, whoever reigns, that will perhaps be our greatest achievement as a people.

9. What do you like (and dislike) most about the cultures on Earth? (RP)

Such a good question, and so difficult to do justice to! First, consider the culture of Thomo: we have art, we have music, we have religion, we have literature and cooking, we have nearly every basic category that is found on Earth. But on Earth, you have thousands of cultures, each with its own art and music, literature, all with their own subdivisions, and if that weren't enough, cross-contacts between them! Thousands upon thousands! Learning about and experiencing this richness has been a delight for me. If the day comes that Thomans visit Earth in numbers (and I hope it will), some Thomans might be overwhelmed by all the complex diversity. If they are, I hope people here will try to understand.
I have seen, in fact, that many people of Earth are similarly affected. People of different nations, different religions, people who speak different languages, are sometimes regarded with suspicion, distrust, or worse. While most wars seem to have been fought for economic reasons, these cultural differences often play a large role as well. This is unfortunate. Education is one way to increase understanding and eliminate the discomfort.
Also, Thomans are by nature a collective people. We live in families, clans, and tribes. We think of ourselves as members of groups, and act in the interests of the group--not always, but generally. Most of Earth's cultures value the individual as much as, or more than, the group. I confess I have found this attractive. In some ways, I did not fit in perfectly in Thoman society. I fit better here. But at the same time it seems a shame that there is not more concern by individuals for the welfare of their own groups, for other groups, and for people as a whole. Indeed, it seems that most of the environmental problems and economic inequalities the planet is facing today are at least in part attributable to that lack. There should be a better balance between the needs of individuals and the needs of groups.
One more feature that I feel two ways about is money. Thomans do not have a money culture. The notion of "capitalism" is not something we would readily understand. We have stores, for example, but they tend to contain items that people want. No one will make and market something hoping that many people will buy it. We do not have advertisements. But again, I must admit that I love shopping here. The diversity and sheer delight of discovering something useful I had never thought I needed is thrilling.
Many people here seem to feel that money is more important than people, but I do not. I think people are more important than money. Whatever we think, it also seems obvious that our peoples have much to learn from each other!

10. Why did you marry that slug, Matt Méndez? (NW)

My editor thought I would not want to answer this question, but I do. Thoman marriages are often arranged, particularly when the parents have wide responsibilities within their clans. The wishes of the betrothed are seldom considered when clan politics are involved. I was never comfortable with this. I longed for a husband who was also a friend and a partner, and who would place our family first in his heart. Matt and I were attracted to each other before my renown distorted people's perceptions of me. He was so kind and patient, allowing me time to adjust to a new way of being, without his even knowing why I had to do it. Having a husband who is my best friend and who is totally devoted to our family is much more important to me than having a man who is a great warrior or hunter, or who has high status among his peers. There is no word in Luvit for "soul-mate," but that is what my husband is to me. I consider myself blessed.

Distant Cousin: Regeneration (Volume 4)

Only six people in the world know the first alien to land on Earth is also a housewife and mother living in New Mexico. Everyone else knows her to be a reclusive but devoted philanthropist. So why is a shadowy billionaire trying to find her and kill her? And when death finally visits Ana Darcy Mendez, will it destroy her and her family?

As one fan predicted, "Oh, well. Ana Darcy Mendez never got into a fix that she couldn't get out of."

This time it's different....

Distant Cousin: Reincarnation (Volume 3)

Well, we knew it was going to happen. There were hints in the second novel of the Distant Cousin series, and so it is no surprise that in the third novel, Darcy's greatest fears are realized. Her cold and greedy brother-in-law, Herecyn Cymred, has sold the wrong sort of Thoman technology to the wrong sort of person and a weapon of devastating destruction has resulted. Herecyn denies it, of course, but when the Russian mafia tries to eliminate Ana Darcy, the only person who has made the connection, the truth of the matter is obvious.

Author Al Past revs up the action in this third installment of the Distant Cousin series. After seven years of quiet family bliss on the secluded Mendez homestead, hidden in the heart of New Mexico, Darcy once again sacrifices her retirement from public life in order to guard against disaster. As the very first representative from another planet on Earth, Darcy takes it personally to think that technology from her homeworld might be used against mankind. While dodging assassination attempts from hired mercenaries, Darcy plies a little detective work to identify the source of the threat: A Russian oligarch has developed the Thoman technology into a weapon which was promptly tested on remote villages in the tiny territory of Sedlakia, with horrifying results. The US government is loath to interfere, but that doesn't stop one little firebrand of a woman from planning a 2-man mission to save Sedlakia--and possibly the world.

Reincarnation reprises a multitude of characters from the first two books, including government agents, high-powered lawyers, an investigative reporter, and a certain Sicilian "businessman" who once saved Darcy's life. It also introduces a few new characters, such as the Navy SEAL recruited by Darcy for the Sedlaki mission and her own precocious twins, Clio and Julio. Readers get a glimpse inside the personal relationships of the Thoman delegation, which include Darcy's sister and uncle, as well as a thrilling and dangerous adventure in the frozen wilds of Russia. Interspersed with the fast-paced action, we find Darcy's husband Matt holding down the fort at home, supervising the education of his amazing, half-Thoman children, and working out wily plans to preserve their anonymity in the face of Darcy's increasingly public image. And if this is not enough, readers can ponder the significance of the close connection between the Thoman and Sedlaki languages, as well as a certain Sedlaki legend of an ancient queen named Anina Khralovna, who left her people long ago with the promise to return when she was needed ... Highly recommended, but you need to start with Book One!
(D. Salerni)

 Distant Cousin: Reincarnation at Amazon: Kindle Paper

Distant Cousin: Reincarnation (3)--Excerpts

“I really, really don’t think this is a good idea, Ana.”

“It should be OK. You found out where they live. I’d like to see what it looks like. Just drive by, that’s all.”

Zimmer consulted his map. The light turned green. A truck behind him honked. He eased the car forward.

“I barely got started. I haven’t found out who they work for or what they want.”

“Mr. Aldridge said they’re very secretive. You probably would never find that out.”

“Maybe not. But I don’t see what could be learned from driving by where they live.”

“Well, for one thing, they seemed to come out of nowhere. At least now I’ll know where they started from. I’ll feel a little better about that.”

“Yeah, OK; if you say so.”

They were now in a residential area of Queens, one of the boroughs of New York City. Row houses had given way to two and three story houses set on small lots apart from their neighbors, often with narrow driveways between, not impressive, exactly, but undoubtedly expensive. Most looked in good repair. He turned at an intersection. They passed along a row of small businesses, with restaurants and mom and pop stores crowded down a street under a profusion of signs. An airplane thundered overhead on an approach to some nearby airport. He turned left and pulled to the curb.

“Let’s see,” he said, looking at the map again. “Umm...two more blocks and a right turn and that oughta be it. You’re sure you wanna do this?”

“I’m sure.”

A minute later, he said, “OK. It’s 3127. Oughta be on the right.”

The house looked little different from those around it, perhaps a little larger. It was painted white and had two stories plus dormer windows. The first floor windows were barred, like some of the other houses on the block. They eased past.

“Drive around the block. Let’s do it again.”


Cars were parked all down the street, in the shade of curbside trees. On their second approach, she pointed to one of several vacant slots three or four houses short of their target but on the other side of the street. “Pull in here and stop. Let’s watch it a minute.”

They sat there.

“Looks ordinary.”

“Yes, it does.”

“I bet they want it that way.”


“What now?”

“Let’s just sit here a minute.”

He killed the engine. They waited.

“I appreciate your help, Scott.”

“No problem. I’m glad to do it.”

“I’m sure those contracts were boring.”

“Well, yes, but the overall experience wasn’t bad. There were compensations.”

“Like what?”

“Your sister.”

“Ianthe? What about her?

“She’s interesting, kind of a puzzle. There’s something about her....”

“What do you mean?”

“She’s so correct, so polite. But I got the feeling that there’s a lot going on underneath.”

“Oh. Well, that’s probably true. Believe it or not, I don’t know her that well myself. I left when she was little, and I’ve only seen her a half dozen times here, never for very long. Thomans tend to be formal around strangers anyway, but she seems a little extra reserved, I guess you would say.”

“Have you ever seen her open up?”

“Yes, I think so, once. She came to visit me at a resort about a year ago. I had her wear a simple disguise and we wandered around like regular people. That really delighted her. She had fun.”

“Hmm. In some ways she reminds me of you, but when I was there she acted sort of like the lady of the big house.

Even so, I got a few hints that there was another person behind that front.”

“Really? Like what?”

“Hello! What’s that?” He nodded his head. A man had come out of the house. He opened the front gate and stepped out. He had a cap and jacket on. He began walking in their direction but on his side of the street.

“That looks like one of the men who attacked me,” she whispered. “I think his name is Sascha something.”

“Hmm. So, we found the right place....”

The man was looking down the sidewalk ahead of him. He strolled past three houses and then turned and stepped into the street. He walked up to Darcy’s car window and stopped. She glanced at Zimmer, pressed the button, and rolled her window down halfway.


“My employer would like speak with you, please,” he said, his Slavic accent thick. “Ten minutes, at most.”
“Oh!” She sat back and thought a second. “All right.” She rolled the window back up and looked at Zimmer. “If I’m not back in fifteen minutes, call the police.”

“I wouldn’t do that. Let’s just get out of....” But it was too late. She had opened the door and stepped out. He watched her accompany the man back across the street, down the sidewalk, in the gate, and up to the door of the house. The man opened the door for her and she went in. He sighed and patted his shirt to check that he actually did have his cell phone. He didn’t like this at all.

Inside the front door was a short hallway with several doors, all closed. The man led her to the one at the end and opened it for her. She stepped through. To her surprise she found herself in a large room totally devoid of furniture. It too had several doors, all closed, and a high ceiling. Opposite there was a balcony with a railing. The door behind her clicked shut—Sascha had evidently backed out, leaving her alone.

As she turned to examine the room, another door opened in the center of the balcony up above. A man stepped to the railing and looked down at her. He was somewhere in his fifties, heavy but not fat, wearing a gray suit and red tie. His head was bald and the skin on his face was smooth and pink.

“Ms. Darcy, I presume?” he said. As had Sascha, he spoke with a pronounced accent.

“Yes, sir. And you are?”

“My name is not important, Ms. Darcy.”

“You know my name. It is basic manners for me to know yours.”

“It is; I grant you that. My apologies. I am Arkady Cherenkov, madam.”

“You appear to have an interest in me, Mr. Cherenkov. Why?”

“You have no idea?”

“No sir, none.”

“You surprise me, madam. You are interfering in my employer’s business affairs. I cannot believe that you are not aware of that. Indeed, he has ordered me to see that you stop.”

“How can I stop something I am unaware of doing?”

“A good question, madam, but an irrelevant question. As it happens, there is a more recent matter which renders that one moot.”

She said nothing. Finally, he spoke again.

“You have damaged some of my property, madam, two assets to be precise. Both have required repair and retraining, thanks to you. Indeed, one may never recover from the retraining, but that is not your affair. Nevertheless, I must insist on a measure of restitution. Fortunately for me, that restitution coincides with my employer’s wishes as well.”

He clapped his hands twice, sharply. A door beneath him and opposite her opened. “Meet Grigor, Ms. Darcy. Grigor is in charge of our training and retraining.”

A man stepped out, an enormous man, a half head taller than Matt and probably twice his weight, with very short dark hair and wearing a tank top that revealed the shoulders and arms of a weightlifter. He moved deliberately, balanced and graceful. Three paces into the room he stopped, casually crossing his arms, and studied her with cold eyes. His biceps were the size of her thighs.

“Mr. Cherenkov, if I am not out of this house in three minutes, the police will be called here.”

“Aha. Perhaps, Ms. Darcy, you should not be too hasty about that.”

He opened the door behind him. Two people emerged: a dazed Scott Zimmer, blood dripping from a cut on his cheek, being pushed by her old acquaintance Sascha. Zimmer glanced at her and shook his head, either in regret or to signal that he was all right; she couldn’t tell. Sascha shoved him down to one end of the balcony while pointing a pistol at him.

Cherenkov closed the door and turned to Darcy. “It is bad for training to be interrupted, do you not agree? Now I think we may proceed without interruption.”

He began speaking in Russian. She couldn’t catch every word, but Russian was a distant cousin of Luvit, and in her work with Dr. Sledd in comparative linguistics she had studied it as well as Polish and Czech. She could follow what he was saying. Basically, he was telling Grigor to beat her to death.

The man unfolded his arms and stepped toward her. He moved like a cat, in perfect control at every moment. She tried the door behind her. It was locked. Turning, she backed away from the approaching giant.

He tried to trap her in a corner but she darted around him to the center of the room. She was certain she was much faster than he was...but just how fast was he? He came at her again and again she slipped around him. The fourth time he anticipated and stepped to his left as she went by, directing a slice at her chest. She evaded it easily, but even so she felt the breeze as his arm passed. He was much faster than his size would indicate.

They repeated the same basic maneuver a dozen times or more until it became monotonous. The man showed no impatience, advancing time after time. She didn’t dare continue the same pattern indefinitely. He might be anticipating just such a mistake, waiting to catch her off guard. His face remained emotionless, implacable.

After evading him for what seemed ten minutes, it dawned on her that the real problem was that the man on the balcony might become impatient. She could do this for hours, but if Cherenkov grew tired of watching their lethal ballet he might simply tell Sascha to shoot her.

Poor Scott! His instinct had been exactly correct. Hers had been wrong. They should have driven away. She had to do something.

On her next duck by him she changed direction suddenly, zipped by his chest, and popped him smartly in one eye with a knuckle. She darted out of range of his hands in the next fraction of a second, but not before his fingers ripped two buttons off her blouse. His head jerked back and a hint of anger crossed his face. He wiped the wounded eye several times with the back of one hand, glaring at her with the unaffected one. The pain that had to have caused would have convinced practically anyone to find something else to do, but Grigor merely shook it off and kept advancing.

Reducing him to monocular vision might have helped a little but it was becoming clearer every second: she was in serious trouble.


Matt was at his desk in the corner of the living room paying bills with the help of Foosh, sleeping on a pile of papers at his left elbow. From time to time he’d pull one out from under the cat or slide one back underneath. Foosh tolerated this, showing only by irregular breathing or twitching his tail that he even noticed. He was punching numbers into the calculator when he became aware that Julio was standing at his side, looking unusually somber.
“Hey there, mijo. What’s up?”

Julio looked at the floor.

“I did a bad thing, Dad. I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to!”

Matt tossed his pencil down and studied his son. He looked about to cry.

“Pos, mijo...¿Qué hiciste?” (“Well son, what did you do?”)

“I scratched your truck, Dad.”

“You did? Well, it already has a few scratches, son. A pickup truck is no damn good unless it has a few scratches. Is it a big scratch?”

“Kinda big. I didn’t mean to, Dad!”

Julio was not only contrite, his t-shirt was only half tucked in and he was wringing his little hands. He looked like a lost waif in a Disney movie.

“Oh, jeez. Well, let’s go look at it.”

Julio led him outside. Dr. David Jameson, the friendly university physicist who tutored the twins, was leaning against the truck. Young and athletic for a professor, he unfolded his arms as they approached.
“So, you told him, huh?”

“I don’t see a scratch,” said Matt.

“Other side, Dad.”

He walked around the vehicle. The far side had a “scratch” that was impossible to miss, actually a furrow, almost a rip, from low on the rear quarter panel along the bed to the driver side door where it became a puncture and stopped.

“Holy crap!” blurted Matt. “Did you back it into a steel post?”

Julio’s face clouded up and tears began to roll down his cheeks.

“He wasn’t in the truck, Matt,” said Jameson. They were on a first-name basis. “It was parked right where you see it.”
“Good God, son! How the hell did you manage to do that?”

Jameson answered for him.

“It was an unintended consequence of a scientific trial. Except for that, it was a complete success. I suppose you could call it a smashing success. Or maybe a ripping success.”

Jameson actually had a twinkle in his eye.

“OK,” said Matt, taking a breath. “How’d he do it? Tell me.”

“We’ve been studying robotics for a couple months. You probably knew that. Your son wanted to build a robotic vehicle. That’s it over there.”

He nodded to his left. Under a tree sat a wheeled vehicle half the size of a riding lawnmower. Indeed, it seemed to have the big, knobby tires of a riding lawnmower. It looked like an assembly of junk, but then there were no body panels hiding its interior parts, which seemed to consist of electric motors, batteries, wires, steering components, and other unidentifiable hardware. Jameson continued.

“Your son designed and built all that. But that’s not the most remarkable part. He also designed the logic program that runs it without human input, and the sensors that tell it where it is and what to do. The propulsion system is completely novel as far as I know. The power circuits are exceptionally efficient. Just imagine the force it needed to make that scratch! The vehicle senses what is in front of it quite well...but, as we now know, not what is next to it. That’ll have to be a subsequent modification. Right, Julio?”

Julio still looked overwhelmed. He said nothing in reply. Jameson went on.

“That this vehicle was created by a seven year old, even with my guidance, is incredible. What torque it had to have to do all that damage! As a science project it would probably win him a full college scholarship. That is, once he makes a few adjustments, of course.

“A college scholarship,” he added, his eyes still twinkling, “should more than offset what it’ll cost to repair your truck.”
Matt reviewed the scene: the wounded truck, his son’s machine of devastation, Jameson trying not to smile, and Julio himself, hands jammed in his pockets, looking at nothing in particular. He checked his watch.

“Yeah, maybe. It might even cover the cost of a rent-a-car while this thing gets fixed.” He sighed. “I reckon that’s enough science for one day, don’t you, son? You make the salad tonight, mijo. And clean up afterwards, and fix that death tractor of yours so it doesn’t trash anything valuable or run over a dog. I’ll handle the insurance company. Deal?”
Julio nodded at the ground.

“All right. Good.” He winked at Jameson as he laid a hand on Julio’s shoulder. “Thanks, Dave...I guess. See you next week, OK? C’mon,
son. Let’s go lick our wounds.

DC: Reincarnation @ Amazon  Kindle edition  Paperback

Distant Cousin: Repatriation (Volume 2)

A year or more has passed since the events in Distant Cousin. Ana Darcy, the first human on Earth from another planet, lives in quiet obscurity with her husband Matt Mendez and their twins, Julio and Clio. After her spectacular performance at the Olympics, not to mention the weeks spent on the run from government agents, she has opted to live a private, secluded life. And yet, her concern over the arrival of relatives from the planet Thomo causes her to revive her celebrity status for the good of mankind. The Thomo delegation includes her brother-in-law Herecyn, whom she had previously rejected as her own suitor, and she does not trust that his diplomacy skills will outweigh his simple greed when it comes to trade negotiations with Earth. Since her marriage to Matt has stripped her of all status among the Thomans, Darcy's only choice is to offer herself as a celebrity representative of Earth, to aid in the upcoming momentous meeting as a "good will ambassador."

Reluctantly, Darcy begins a grueling circuit of interviews and television appearances, while trying to maintain the secrecy of her life with Matt and the twins. Unfortunately, this may be the wrong time to step into the limelight, as a certain unscrupulous conglomerate is currently looking for leverage in the upcoming negotiations for technology data with the Thomans. And Darcy looks to be an attractive sort of leverage ...

This sequel to Distant Cousin is, like its predecessor, more mainstream literature than science fiction. Readers will find the science fiction elements kept to the background in a storyline that is more about character and society than about the arrival of extra-terrestrials on Earth. We continue to learn more about the culture of our "distant cousins," the humans transplanted on planet Thomo, but the focus is more on our own culture. It is not difficult to believe in the astonishing charisma of Darcy, since we, the readers, are charmed to the point of wanting to read anything that the author cares to write about her. Don't get me wrong--Repatriation has its share of suspense--but the fact is, this novel's allure exists primarily in the depth of characters and also in the nature of the 100-pound demure and spitfire little heroine, our distant cousin, Darcy.

(D. Salerni)

Distant Cousin: Repatriation at Amazon  Kindle  Paper

Distant Cousin: Repatriation (2) Professional Reviews

The action-packed sequel to the magical Distant Cousin is here! Matt Mendez and Ana Darcy try to continue to lead normal lives, even after Darcy's relatives from the planet Thomo have arrived on Earth. The pursuit of a normal lifestyle may have been successful if another nosy reporter, the FBI, the Mafia, and a conglomerate with scruples learned from Enron had not gotten involved. About the only normalcy Matt and Darcy can achieve is the discovery that if peppers are added to their toddler's green vegetables, she will actually eat something green. The whole affair hardly leaves time for Darcy to teach Matt how to drive her spaceship!

Al Past carries the story of Darcy, the ex-princess of Thomo, deeper into the realm of reality on Earth. Considerably more concise than Distant Cousin, the sequel carries the adventure into a believable sequence of events. The brevity of the descriptions of both characters and scenes does hamper the magic a bit, but the pace has picked up considerably from that of the predecessor, and that seems to have been the author's intent.

Yes, I highly recommend this sequel to anyone who has already read Distant Cousin. Any reader who is approaching Mr. Past's saga of The Barbie from Outer Space for the first time with Repatriation in hand will miss a lot. Although the key background elements of the plot of Distant Cousin are mentioned in all the right places for those readers who may be meeting Darcy for the first time, there is absolutely no substitute for a careful reading of Distant Cousin first. Standing alone, I can only give Repatriation four stars, but as a sequel, it easily earns the full set of five. I do not wish to mention any further plot elements here. Just open your mind's eye and imagine Spielberg directing the movie. Would he combine the two books into one movie? Maybe he would because the plotlines are seamless; or maybe he wouldn't because you have to slow down the action to capture the real magic of a starchild. I just want to feel the delight of seeing Matt drive that space pod! (PODBRAM)

In "Distant Cousin: Repatriation," the second of what one hopes will be a continuing series, the same petite blonde heroine, the much loved Darcy, is kidnapped by thugs you will love to hate and long to throtle. With more characters and new, amazingly diverse milieus and locales, the plot thickens. In fact, it gets so think you wonder how it can ever be untangled! Ah, but there is a hero too, striaght out of West Texas, valiant and true blue.
The chiefest thing about both of Al's not only their chair-gripping suspense but their wonderful happiness.... I'm still smiling when I think of number one and I've been giving this second book a big hug every day since I finished it. God bless heroines like Darcy! We need to see how virtue, clever, intelligent and creative, can attract good and loving allies and find a way to outwit a pack of black-hearted villains. Take my word for it, Darcy leaves them in the deep West Texas Dust.
Margaret Moser, Beeville Bee-Picayune, Sep. 6, 2006

Distant Cousin: Repatriation (2) Excerpts

Goddam west Texas, anyway! Not a damn thing in it, and it went on forever! He'd driven nearly all day long and seen less and less the farther he got from Austin: abandoned shacks (some of adobe), rusty railroad tracks alongside occasional empty cattle pens, a few windmills and oil wells, scraggly barbed wire fences, a couple ranch headquarters, random dispirited cows and goats, sticker bushes out the wazoo, a couple dozen buttes and hills, and no water to speak of anywhere. And here he was inching along through the middle of it. He shook his head--he was a driven man. The lame pun made him smile grimly.

At least there was time to think. Hell, there was so little traffic on the interstate he could even read. He flipped open the binder lying on the passenger seat next to him and glanced at the headline of the newspaper article he had clipped in as page one: "Starchild Lands in West Texas, Remembered by Many Local Citizens." He knew the article and the pictures that went with it almost by heart.

A half dozen photographs showed the "starchild" variously riding a bicycle in front of a group of other cyclists, sprinting down the center lane of a stadium track, and sailing through the air in a variety of attitudes. In one, she was frozen like a bird in flight, arms outspread, three stories over a crystal blue pool, in another, stretched out horizontally over a bar, and in a third, midair in a sitting position with her feet in front of her and arms down, appearing to float over the sand in the long jump pit. All these photos were from the previous Olympic Games in Ireland, and in all of them she was wearing several iterations of skimpy Team Barbados uniforms in blue and yellow.

His next-to-favorite was not from the Olympics; it was her "wanted" poster, taken by some SWAT team that had briefly captured her in Texas, in which she was looking into the camera with a scared and vulnerable expression on her face.

Where was his favorite, flip, flip, flip, ah, there it was: a full page photo from Sports Illustrated, showing her from the collar bones up, hair wet and slicked back, face tilted down but eyes staring straight into the camera. It had evidently been taken as she concentrated before a dive from the high platform, probably from a camera all the way across the pool. The face was angular and keen and the eyes penetrated into his brain like lasers.

Suddenly a deafening howl shattered his reverie, as if banshees were after him. Shit! He was driving on the shoulder! Whoa! Get it back in the lane, man! His heart was pounding. There were no other vehicles in sight—damn! Pay attention, you bone head! His quest had only just started, and wouldn’t it be just flat pathetic to ruin it with a car accident in the first few hours? When his heart rate settled down again, he risked another quick glance at the notebook.

The text of the newspaper piece told the story of how the "starchild" had supposedly come to the moon from her distant home planet to observe Earth, which she had decided was where her people had originated. Disobeying her orders to merely observe the planet, she left the moon and landed in the Davis Mountains to warn her “distant cousins” of approaching meteoroids, but some of those cousins thought she was crazy and others thought she was some kind of exotic threat, and chased her all over west Texas. She devised a desperate plan to make her way to the Olympic Games, where she created a worldwide sensation by winning six gold medals, using the opportunity to publicize the danger to the planet. The article went on to mention a half dozen or so west Texans who had had dealings with her. He had notes on all of them.

Reporters from everywhere had tried to locate her ever since. All had failed. But he would not fail! No, by God! He would be the one who found her! He would see that face in person, or else. He would do it or die trying!
He lit yet another cigarette, satisfying but not as good as the alternative—better not to think about the alternative. In the far distance, where the interstate dwindled to two thin, dark lines, mountains began to loom on the horizon. Finally! Assuming he could locate the Indian Lodge State Park and get a camping permit, he could take a shower, eat a can of corned beef, down a couple beers, and see if he could get any sleep in the back seat of his car. Tomorrow his future would begin.


New York City! He hadn’t seen excitement to compare to this since, well, never, really. What a deal he’d managed to put together. That little article in People magazine was giving him journalistic credentials that had genuine weight. He was beginning to actually feel like a journalist. He even had a network of contacts, a small one. Charlene Stratemeyer had got him credentialed to the press section of the VIP stands, and that cheap-ass V. T. Newsome had somehow coughed up the price of a round-trip plane ticket. V. T. had promised him that Ana Darcy was willing to finish the interview they had begun all those weeks ago, provided he could wait until this arrival business was over. It was difficult, but he would. He’d seen all her television appearances, but they were fluff bits, not in-depth interviewing like he was going to do. It would still be one hell of an article.

At the foot of the stands the row of TV cameras was swiveling toward the podium, where a uniformed man with a walkie-talkie had appeared. The man leaned into the microphone, blew on it twice, and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Thoman vehicle has begun its approach. Current altitude is 100 miles. ETA is approximately twenty minutes.”

Big stuff! History in the making! He turned to the fellow next to him. “Exciting, huh?”

“Ja! Dass ist true! Very eggziting! Jurgen Mueller, from Der Tag.”

“How do you do, Mr. Mueller? I’m Scott Zimmer.”

“Ach! Mr. Zimmer! You vere de vun who interviewed Mz. Darcy for People magazine, ja?”

“Yes, that was me.” He felt a surge of pride to admit it.

“Eggzellent! You must tell me about dot! Vat vass she like, hein?”

They spent ten or fifteen minutes chatting about what it was like to actually be in the presence of the extraterrestrial Olympian. Mueller seemed totally star-struck, asking about every little detail, until Zimmer realized with a pang of insight that in Mueller’s place he would have done the same. He guessed Mueller might brag some day about having met a person who had met Ana Darcy. Even the reporters around Mueller were listening in and asking questions. Talk about an ego-boosting experience!

They were eventually interrupted by the man at the microphone, hand to his ear, who leaned over and said, “Visual contact in two minutes,” as every one of thousands of heads looked straight up. This was followed by a couple of shrieks from different spectators, then more shrieks, and then arms pointing overhead, a few degrees off the vertical.
Zimmer’s eyes were not the best, so it wasn’t until most of the crowd was chattering and squealing amid excited bursts of applause that he actually saw it: a tiny dot, almost directly over them. At first it grew darker rather than bigger, but after a minute or two he could tell it was getting bigger as well. In three more minutes he could make out that it was rectangular, about the proportion of a Greyhound bus. It wasn’t descending very fast at all. By the time he could tell it was colored a mousy gray, it seemed like he should have been hearing some sort of sound from it, but there was none. It just kept descending, to more and more excited applause.

When it was low enough for his eyes to be able to judge its height, it rotated slightly to align with the stripe painted on the tarmac in the middle of the horseshoe. Lower, lower, but still no sound. How odd, really. Even a blimp would have been making some noise. It was three our four times higher than the top of the hanger they were next to when he felt...what was that? A low rumble? No...more like a hum, a low, vibrating hum. The hum increased while the shadow of the thing came into view on the other side of the runway, in the afternoon sun, moving slowly toward the landing point as well. The rate of descent slowed even more until finally it stopped altogether, hovering in midair about fifty feet over the landing spot. Two uniformed men wearing absurdly large and completely unnecessary hearing protectors began waving red wands at it in that peculiar airplane language they had. The vehicle began to settle very slowly, until it landed gently on the tarmac. The hum, which he felt rather than heard, under the applause, died away. Now its size was evident: it was a little bigger than a boxcar, and roughly the same proportions, but with rounded edges and corners. There were windows in the front, where the pilot no doubt was, and a few smaller windows down the side facing him. There was a colorful Thoman seal on the hull just forward of what looked to be a hatch and some strange symbols, probably their letters or numbers, below it.

From the left, a band struck up a dignified march of some kind. “Vat ah zey playink?” asked Mueller. “That’s the Thoman national anthem,” he told him with great assurance. (He’d read that in the New York Times the day before.) With the band was a color guard, one member in the center carrying the Thoman flag. It had a blue field and three circles on it, one large green one and two smaller white ones. (The newspaper had explained that was because Thomo had two moons.) The spectators began applauding afresh as a line of limousines drove up and people began getting out of them. The most identifiable person, and the one who garnered the biggest burst of applause (with not a few shrieks, shouts, and whistles) was Ana Darcy. Zimmer almost felt sorry for the Secretary General of the United Nations, who was clearly playing second fiddle.

That gentleman, Ana Darcy, and three others stepped toward the vehicle and waited as the hatch swung open in two parts, a top half and bottom half. A solid-looking man with a red beard stepped out—Rothan Darshiell, most likely. He was wearing some sort of close-fitting suit, perhaps a flight suit, under a handsome Nehru-style overcloak, all deep blue. He placed one hand over his heart and bowed to the applauding crowd and then opened his arms as Ana Darcy ran to him. Uncle and niece, after all, thought Zimmer. It was sweet. Two other people emerged next, a tall, serious-looking man and a gorgeous brunette, both dressed like the uncle and with an aristocratic air about them. Ana embraced each in turn, with two air kisses for each. Those would be Herecyn Cymred and his wife, Ana’s sister, Ianthe.

The public address system wasn’t up to the task of rendering their speech intelligible, but then they wouldn’t have been speaking English anyway. Zimmer wasn’t worried: the cameras nearby would be capturing every detail and he could study it all later.

Ana introduced the three arrivals to the Secretary General and his party and stood to one side, evidently wiping away tears, while they shook hands, bowed, and otherwise greeted each other ceremonially. That done, they stepped to the podium and began making the predictable speeches. Rothan spoke briefly in halting English, with an accent that to Zimmer’s ears sounded eastern European or maybe Scandinavian somehow. Cymred and his wife also spoke. The younger man’s English was accented, but surprisingly good. Finally, the limousines pulled up behind them and the two groups began shaking hands and bowing all over again and getting in. The brunette, who had a penetratingly sharp face not unlike her sister, stepped to the open hatch of the shuttle and retrieved a small box, which she presented to one of the uniforms standing nearby. Then she too got into a limousine and the whole procession began moving down the flight line, headed for the United Nations building.

The uniformed man handed the box to a subordinate and stepped to the microphone. “Ambassador Darshiell has asked me to give everyone here a Thoman lapel pin in honor of this occasion. I must insist on order and good manners. If there is any rushing the line, I promise you, I will discontinue the process! Please file by one of these officers, and be patient. There are enough to go round. Thank you very much.”

That was a very savvy thing for the ambassador to do, thought Zimmer. He had a plane to catch in seventy five minutes, but he’d wait for his lapel pin. If he missed it, he’d take a later one.

As it turned out, he did miss his plane, but not because he was waiting for a souvenir—that took only about fifteen minutes. Instead, he remained in the stands to watch policemen cordon off the vehicle as various airport service trucks drove up. Cargo hatches in the rear of the thing opened—how? he wondered. Supposedly, all the occupants had been driven into the city. Quite a number of large cargo containers were offloaded and driven away, and the cargo hatches closed. Then the front hatch closed.

The guards stood around the vehicle in a large circle, watching the remaining people. Several camera crews were still filming too. Perhaps an hour after the limousines had departed, the humming began again, faintly. The guards didn’t seem surprised. It increased to a very noticeable level, and then the vehicle lifted off the ground. Who the hell was flying the thing? Zimmer would be sure to ask when he next saw Ana Darcy. It eased into the air twenty feet, forty feet, a hundred feet. It began rising faster, shrinking as it went. In four or five minutes he could no longer see it. There’d be no tour, dammit.

He’d been expecting trouble changing his flight, but the ticket agent was surprisingly understanding. She ventured it was easy to find him a seat on a flight because so many people had stayed in town to watch the visitors’ motorcade into the city. Apparently, not even the presence of the President or a summit conference of world leaders had ever tied up the city like it was this afternoon. She asked if she could touch the nifty lapel pin he was wearing, with its three circles on a bright blue background. If it impressed her, it also impressed him—one of the first few objects to come to earth from the people of another planet, a souvenir from his distant cousins!