For a time, fantastic stories of heroes traveling the galaxy filled the minds of Shifka’s young. Intensely popular during the earliest days of cross planetary travel between Erke’s world and its four nearest neighbors, they detailed remarkable adventures of amazing fellow beings. The excitement of the unknown fueled a passion for these tall tales.
The reality, though, was that relationships among the many different species got off to a rocky start. Communication and acceptance can be difficult to obtain when alien civilizations make first contact. Due to this, more and more stories were told for entertainment-sake about the horribleness of the other places. It felt like a way to deal with all the uncertainty. These fictional accounts held sway over the youth of Shifka, and continued to do so long after the kids who read them turned into adults who knew better.
Erke and Emkie were obsessed as kids with a series based on their planet’s furthest new friend, Slune. There, within an arid landscape filled with dirty buildings and shady characters, one noble Shifkajn tried to free scores of unjustly incarcerated travelers. This hero, Elojonea, fought everyone and anyone for his race’s freedom.
Emkie’s favorite bits were the elaborate escape plans that Elonjea created. The detail and creativity of these ideas fascinated him, and lead to a compulsion in school of learning as much about a subject that he possibly could. The success he enjoyed now in his educational life mirrored such a focus.
His older brother, on the other hand, loved when the hero would deviate from a plan and decide to simply start destroying things and creatures with bare hands. Elojonea was tremendously powerful on Slune, thanks to some improbable, impossible, yet reasonable-to-children natural phenomenon. He busted through bars, walls, and whatever else stood in his way when the plan went sour.
Erke couldn’t get enough of this. When things go wrong, that’s ok, yet-undiscovered gifts would get him out of any problem. Erke watched, waited, and hoped countless times that the issues of his own life could be destroyed with the appearance of some magical ability. Recently, he had begun to lose faith that it ever would.
The situation he now faced seemed like one his boyhood idol suffered, but there would be no similar escape. Erke looked at the men that surrounded him, and the weapons they held. He had no answer for that. Even if it was just him against them hand-to-hand, an unfortunate conclusion would be definite. Erke hadn’t fought anyone since his youth, and that had only been his smaller brother. One on one against a soldier, perhaps, with luck. One on six, no way. This was not Elojonea against the Slunetians. This was Erke against the humans, and this story would likely have a very believable, and non-heroic, ending.
The Major and one of his charges walked over and pointed at the back of the wagon. It looked cramped and uncomfortable, with no way out. Erke figured that he would likely have to get used to that feeling. He glumly stepped up and entered the space.
The vehicle felt drafty. Erke pulled a furry blanket tightly around his shoulders. He hadn’t felt warm once on this planet, and realizing this, pulled the wrap even more snugly. The major saw his huddling.
“Don’t worry, the rest of the country isn’t this cold. You’ll warm up once you’re out of Alaska.”
“Sounds just great.”
His flat delivery sounded borderline sarcastic. It was another example of the humanistic behavior from the alien, which caught the major off guard each time it happened.
“Are the rest of your people like you?”
“I’m not a people.”
Erke’s blunt response chaffed the long-time military man. Nobody talked to him like that. If someone under his command ever did, they were dealt with severely. Given the situation though, the Major swallowed hard, and corrected his inquiry.
“Are the rest of…the citizens on your planet like you?”
The ambulance accelerated slowly out of the building. Erke thought for a few more moments before responding.
“If I were to ask you that question, if the rest of the humans were like you, how would you answer? Would you say yes? Are all humans the same?”
There was no response from the Major, as he simply stared at his captive, who went on without prompting.
“You seem to think that anyone not from earth is just…one type of creature. Like we’re all from the same mold, unlike the special earthlings. That couldn’t be more wrong. If you guys would only get off this planet and meet some different species, you’d start to grasp that. You might start to understand more about yourselves as well.”
Erke shuddered. It wasn’t just from the cold. He had never been known as a talkative or articulate individual by his friends and co-workers. His boss often chastised him for the lack of depth in their weekly reviews. This response he just gave to his captor might have been the most lucid and eloquent thing he’d said for many years. Being away from home in this tight situation started loosening something inside.
“Humans are the same, mostly.”
The Major, looking a little irritated from the accusation, continued his response.
“There are small differences, of course. Height, weight, humor, intelligence, etc. I think we’re mostly alike though, as a…species. I mean, I guess it depends on your scale. We’re not clones. Still, I don’t believe there’s a wide range of characteristics. One man may be able to lift two or three times the poundage of another man, but it doesn’t get more extreme than that. Nobody can fly. Nobody can turn invisible, or break down walls with their bare hands. There aren’t really any heroes. Nobody is Superman in real life.”
The vehicle came to a stop. The seven in the back sat silently, lost in their own thoughts. Erke fixated on the end of the major’s statement. He didn’t know who Superman was, but based on the sentiment leading up to the mention, he knew what it meant. His mind spun.