Seagulls falling out of the sky raised a line of puffs on the barren beach as they smacked into the sand.
Darren glanced upward shielding his eyes from the blazing sun. Nikki, lying on the pink towel next to him, rose on both elbows. She screamed.
More birds pelted the beach. A few hundred yards to the south, it was raining seagulls. “It’s coming this way,” he told the hazel-eyed beauty.
“Head for the water. It’s the only safe place,” he shouted.
They raced towards the incoming tide, extending their long, lean bodies over the surf. The couple pummeled the aqua water with furious crawl strokes, side by side. When they were far enough from shore, Darren pulled up, treading water. Nikki’s head broke water just as a wave rolled over her. She came up coughing and spitting water. Darren reached out. She flattened her curvaceous body against his hard torso, encircling his neck with long, slender arms.
Thunder rumbled. The waves grew higher. Darren watched in disbelief as the storm of falling seagulls engulfed the Canyon Ranch Spa and Hotel.
“The ‘Millennium Predictions’ are coming true,” Nikki gasped.
The seagull storm swallowed up the hotel. The bird-cloud mushroomed towards the sleek concrete and steel skyscraper to the north. The sky darkened. A squall rippled towards them from the macabre scene unfolding on the shore.
Darren held her tightly. “I’ll always love you, even if the world ends.”
Nikki pushed away from him with a wild-eyed expression.
“Cut,” the Director yelled from the filming platform six feet behind them.
The computer-generated effects Darren had spent hours studying the night before dissolved on the screen of his imagination. The newly built Canyon Ranch Hotel gleamed in the South Florida sun, perfectly safe as a dreamer waking from a nightmare in a comfortable bed.
He had been lost in the moment. He had made it all real. Instinct and a script two revisions old had taken over.
Darren smacked his head with an open hand. “Sorry.”
“You’re supposed to say, ‘I thought we could change the future,” the pot-bellied, bearded Director said. He pulled off his black sunglasses and glared at Darren. A gust of wind rustled his mane of graying hair. “Let’s take it from Nikki’s last line, then we’ll break for lunch.”
“Soften your expression,” Nikki told him. “You look too serious.”
One of the benefits of working with your real-life girlfriend was honest feedback.
They sat at a table for two in the crowded Spa restaurant, next to a picture window overlooking the beach. Darren munched on an under-sized grain burger with sprouts and raw carrots on the side—no dressing. Nikki played with a small bowl of whole-wheat spaghetti topped with a hint of marinara sauce—hold the parmesan cheese.
Darren reveled in the few moments of leisurely time they shared before the long night of shooting ahead of them. Two days of bad weather had thrown production behind schedule. The production crew had to squeeze six days of shooting into three. The Director expected actors and crew to stay fresh and energetic, despite the hectic schedule.
Nikki had piled her long red hair in a bun atop her head. She wore no makeup, only a thin layer of moisture cream for protection. Darren had met countless beautiful women in his acting career. Nikki was different from all of them. She wasn’t self-absorbed, and she wasn’t petty, as most of the women he knew tended to be. She read voluminously between acting roles, and was a fine painter. She could be intellectual and sophisticated or simple and playful as a happy child, depending on her mood.
She had stolen his heart shortly after they met at a wedding party eight months ago. There was only one problem. It haunted Darren day and night.
“There’s something we have to talk about, Darren darling. It’s been on my mind for the past few weeks.”
He felt an ache in his heart. He knew the issue had to come up eventually.
“Not now, Princess.”
“It makes me feel like your daughter when you call me that.”
“I can’t help it. I believe you’ve come to me from some enchanted land, or sprung up whole from a ponderous book of fairy tales.”
She stopped smiling.
“What’s wrong?” he said.
She appeared to grapple with what to say next.
“Let’s agree to hold off all serious discussions until the film wraps,” he said. “Until then, we should only try to amuse one another in the few private moments the stingy Director allows us. Now, stop nibbling at your food. Eat up. You need your strength.”
“You eat your grain burger.
“It has no taste.”
“Use your imagination,” she said.
Darren took a bite. “Mmmm. He picked up the remaining piece of grain burger and admired it as if it were the Hope Diamond. “Remind me to ask the chef how they make it taste like dried corn-stalk compost.”
He watched her turn and gaze out the window. The surf was up, reaching with long fingers, almost up to the concrete foundation of the hotel. The sun had disappeared behind late afternoon clouds. He noticed her mood remained somber.
“If you insist on being serious, you might as well tell me what’s on your mind.” He felt the ache in his chest again.
She sighed deeply. “These past eight months have been much more than I ever expected, my love.”
“There’s no reason to believe the next eight months won’t be even better,” he said in his best imitation of a well-known motivational speaker.
He had imagined this painful moment too many times. “I’m concerned about the age difference,” she would say. “What will happen when we get older?” No matter what he said in response, her words would mark the beginning-of-the-end their relationship.
“I fell in love with your humor before I fell in love with you,” she said, instead of the dreaded words he had anticipated hearing.
“And you’ve been dying to confess this to me but you didn’t know how,” he improvised.
“Don’t make this into another game.” Nikki kept staring at him with a horribly solemn expression.
“I’m not from this world,” she said.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you correctly. The acoustics in here are awful.”
“Please try to believe what I’m about to tell you.”
“It’s perfect, sweetheart. Who offered you the role?”
“I’m not trying out a character, Darren.”
“Can’t we just be ourselves with the little time—“
“—I am being myself. Listen to me.”
He stared into the depths of her searching eyes. Nikki lowered her voice. “There are about a million travelers like me scattered in every country of your world.”
Chills ran through his body. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the events depicted in ‘The Millennium Predictions.’ I’m talking about a decision you have to make.”
“You’re telling me they changed the script again and didn’t tell me. They’ve cut down my role. That bastard who calls himself a Director doesn’t like me. That’s it. Isn’t it?
She stared back at him, perfectly still. “I’m not talking about the movie.”
“You can’t be an alien. I’ve kissed every inch of your body. Every part of you is perfectly, beautifully human.”
“Calm down. We’re attracting attention.” She placed a hand over his. “We have the same origin. Our ancestors seeded the galaxy with our kind millions of years ago. It was a grand experiment to study how civilizations develop in different environments. The project is also intended to ensure the survival of our genome.”
He sat there in stunned silence.
“We thought we could blend in and help your civilization grow in a more constructive direction—until recently. We’ve determined your problems are too severe. It’s too late for our help. Your civilization is a failed experiment. Our work here is finished.”
“—Hear me out, Darren. Some of us, like me, have formed strong relationships while we’ve been here. We’re allowed to take one person back with us.” She held his hand tighter. “I want you to come with me when I leave.”
“Nikki, please, this isn’t funny. You must stop it now.”
“I’m not joking. I understand how overwhelming this must be for you. I’m asking you to be strong.”
“You’re asking me to give up everything and pop off into space with you somewhere. Why can’t you stay here with me?”
“Your civilization will most likely destroy itself,” Nikki said.
“How can you make a statement like that and sound so sure of yourself?”
“To put it in simple terms, we can chart the future of a civilizations based on socio-economic, environmental, birth rates, art, scientific measurements and other factors. Our predictive model comes from thousands of civilizations we have studied.”
Darren strained to wrap his mind around what she was telling him.
“What if you get tired of me?” The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. His composure was melting like a sandcastle at high tide.
“Don’t be insecure,” she said.
“I’m twenty years older than you.”
“It never occurred to me. The average life span of my people is two hundred years. A twenty-five year difference in couples is quite common.”
“But I’m not going to live that long.”
“You will once you begin taking the bio-agents we’ve developed to stay young. You’re at the height of your powers, Darren. I’m offering you the chance to stay that way for at least another five decades.”
“It sounds too good to be true. For all I know, you’ll put me in a cage five minutes after boarding your ship.”
“Darling,” she said with a gleam in her eye, “we’re vegetarians, not meat eaters.”
He smiled, despite the feeling of utter uncertainty. “Do you think we can last a hundred a fifty years together?”
“Wouldn’t you love to try,” she said, deftly lowering one eyelid.
He leaned close to her. “Do they need actors on your planet?”
“Yes, my darling. You’ll have time for at least five different careers in the dramatic arts if you get bored.”
“Look at me, sitting here thinking only of myself while you’re telling me the end of the world is at hand.”
“There’s nothing you can do about it.”
“Can’t your people warn us in some way?”
“The warning signs are everywhere. Only a handful of people heed them.”
“There has to be a solution.”
“There is, darling Darren. Come with me.”
“You make it sound so simple.”
It’s not that complicated, my love. You have no children. Your parents are gone. And you’re an only child.”
“I’ve taken a lot of chances in my life. But this…I need time to think.”
“I understand completely,” she said. “We’ll talk again after the film wraps. In the meantime, don’t say a word about this to anyone. It could jeopardize my safety.”
“That’s the last thing I’d ever do.”
She looked at him with an intensity he had never seen before. “We can do this, darling. I know we can if you give it a chance. You’re the perfect man for me.”
He squeezed her hand, kissed her, and walked out of the restaurant on unsteady legs.
The woman known to Darren as Nikki turned to watch the sunset through the picture window. The orange sun plunged into the ocean surrounded by a bevy of pastel pink clouds.
Darren was perfect, she thought—bright, handsome, hardy, talented and most importantly, virile. His sperm count ran off the charts. She had tested it herself with a kit hidden in her dressing trailer. It was a miracle the man hadn’t accumulated a brood of children inside or outside of marriage. She guessed it was due to his exemplary character. He didn’t believe in having children if he wasn’t going to be there for them as a proper parent.
It was ironic that Darren was destined to father thousands of children though he didn’t know it yet. He was going to be on the star ship with her one way or another. Preferably, Darren would decide he couldn’t live without her and leave voluntarily. That way, she could break the news to him gradually during the journey to his new home. He would have time to adjust to the idea of becoming an alpha breeding male for her dying race.
She regretted lying about the nature of her mission and the prospect of her lover living another hundred and fifty years. Even with the bio-agents, the strain of steady breeding would shorten Darren’s life span considerably. But there were much worse fates in the universe than sleeping with gorgeous women like herself who possessed brilliant minds and a multitude of fascinating professional abilities.
The new job came with an array of attractive benefits. Aside from his conjugal duties, Darren’s schedule would include a healthy chunk of time in a classroom to avoid his becoming a conversational bore. Good conversation before mating improved the conception rate dramatically.
To avoid psychological problems, Darren would continue his career in the dramatic arts on her planet as she had promised, under careful supervision of course. She might even be his “girlfriend” for a while to make the transition smoother. Yes, Darren would adjust and eventually thrive in his new role. His qualities of optimism and flexibility almost guaranteed it.
The more she thought about it, the more good ideas came to her for selling the new role to Darren. When you sat back and added it all up, she believed he was a lucky man. This was especially true, considering his slim chances of survival on the sordid, troubled world he would soon be leaving behind.