The Garden of Earthly Delights
By Jay Caselberg
Bosch drew deeply on his cigarette and exhaled slowly, watching the smoke paint clouds of tissue paper across the chill moon. If his hard-boned mouth had been capable of smiling, it would have. He’d tried to mimic the gesture often enough. He took one last drag at the cigarette, then flicked it out in a wide arc to scatter sparks against the broad stone steps. It was funny how compelling these human habits could be, even the ones they frowned upon. There was no risk for Bosch, but the humans seemed to like the fact that he had adopted one of their vices. It showed them he had his personal weakness.
Compelling. It was less compulsion than convenient subterfuge, but they weren’t to know that. Smoking, and alcohol, and sex — particularly sex; the examples went on and on.
“Ambassador Bosch, come to escape the crowd?” It was Davy, his shadow, his cultural liaison, assigned to keep him on the straight and narrow.
Bosch turned his head to make eye contact. These humans liked eye contact. He whistled once and snapped his mouth, forgetting for a moment for the hundredth time that Davy could not understand. Quickly, he followed it with a series of signs using his three long fingers. Davy nodded and waited while Bosch withdrew his pad from inside his clothes, slipped the stylus from the carry case and tapped at the screen. Davy craned over Bosch’s shoulder to read, then glanced down at the still-smouldering cigarette end lying on the steps below.
“Yes, I needed some fresh air as well. I think it’s going well, don’t you?” Bosch tapped at the pad once. As well as it could be, he thought, but Davy seemed satisfied.
The smooth, dark-haired human leaned his head back and looked up at the stars. “Yes, a good night for it,” he said.
A good night for what? Often, these little expressions eluded Bosch. Expressions, cultural behaviours, so many things.
Inside, the reception swirled and circulated and networked and did all the things that these events did. The diplomats and attachés held glasses and mingled with functionaries and celebrities, engaging in polite conversation, or dealing, heads tilted close together, with matters of extreme import to their tiny little world. Bosch was out here to escape the incessant looks, the asides, the little nuances of meaning that he had learned so quickly to interpret.
What was it about an alien being that excited them so much? The human culture was ridden with vices of various sorts. It was yet another thing that showed their pathetic weakness. The higher up they became, the more elevated, the more they showed their true natures. It might be behind closed doors, but it was there, all the same. To some extent, he was shielded from the general populace by Davy and by others like him. Perhaps these weaknesses really did extend throughout the entire population, but he found it hard to imagine how the race could survive if it were true.
Ultimately, it was why he’d made the choice. Bosch. Bosch was a good name. When he’d learned how to see them, how to look at them with human eyes to find the meaning, that particular painter among many had revealed multiple things about this race. Bosch, and Goya, Dali, the others. Ambassador Bosch had looked, he had studied, and he had learned. The educational and cultural tours the humans had been so quick to provide had revealed so much. It was only about a month after arrival that he had finally decided to take the name as his own. The libraries had been most revealing too, but he’d decided to stay with the painter’s name. It had a certain gravitas.
“Ambassador Bosch,” said Davy. “We should really be getting back inside. It would be hard for you not to be missed.”
Davy grinned, clearly thinking he had said something clever, rather than obvious. Bosch clacked his assent, looked up at the columned building and slipped his pad back inside his pocket. Davy was hovering, evidently impatient for them to get back inside. Twisting his fingers with displeasure, Bosch clacked his beak again and allowed Davy to usher him up the stairs and through the large double doors. At least the human had learned quickly to resist the temptation to reach out a hand to steer him. The first time he’d done it, Bosch had nearly taken his arm off. It had taken some detailed explanation about polite behaviour to smooth the incident to the humans’ satisfaction, but now all that was in the past. Davy had learned many things. But then, so had Bosch.
He stood at the top of the stairs leading down to the vast ballroom and surveyed. Masses of humanity slid past each other, different colours, different heights, different garbs, all interacting and playing the little social games they played. In the room’s centre sat a broad white-covered buffet table, a large ice sculpture dominating the display of canapés and other distasteful foodstuffs. The broad open space reeked of humans and the things they ate. He closed his nasal filters in response.
Bosch had tried to ignore the implications of the display, but a representation of himself in frozen water lording over a selection of consumables could hardly escape his notice. He turned his attention back to the milling crowd, searching for opportunities. Davy still hovered nearby, and Bosch pulled out his pad, beckoning the man closer.
“Are you sure, Ambassador?”
Bosch clacked his beak in assent. Go, mingle. Leave me alone. Davy looked doubtful, but he withdrew.
At last alone, he could start the hunt. Over to one side, near the balcony exit, stood a tall, young, brown human. The man was watching Bosch at the top of the stairs, unashamedly staring. Near the central display, a man and a woman were in conversation, casting furtive glances in his direction. Near the wall stood a small knot of draped, bearded men, regarding him with open hostility. He let his gaze drift past and away, pretending he hadn’t noticed.
Near the bottom of the stairs stood a woman. She was clearly watching him, the fingers of one hand toying with a glittering necklace, the other hand holding a cocktail glass, dark hair swept up behind her head and knotted in an elaborate fashion. She half smiled up at him, and he held her look. That one was promising. The males were always such a problem. They were always looking for some sort of orifice or entry point where none existed. Bosch had learned how to deal with their needs, but the disappointment, the frustration, always had to be managed, and this evening he didn’t feel like having to deal with that particular ordeal. His long fingers were extremely dexterous, but even he became bored with the same old repetitive actions. The female of the human species was far easier, but in their own way, more demanding. True, they wanted more contact, physical, touching contact and that suited him, but there was a more demanding aftertaste that lingered after the interaction. It tired him, but he supposed it all balanced out in the end.
Procreation was a simple matter – a routine function performed by the three sexes at the right times. Here, bound in personal interaction, in status, in social dynamics for an entire species, it had fascinated him from the start. That it could extend the boundaries beyond the species intrigued him even more. The mere concept would be anathema to most of his race, but he took it as his personal mission as soon as he became aware of it. Over time, after countless experiences, it had become more than a mission; it had become a need.
Bosch let his gaze wander back to the woman at the base of the stairs. She was still watching. He gave that oh-so-human gesture, and nodded slightly in her direction. There was a hint of a smile, and she inclined her head in return. His fingers worked in anticipation as he took the several long strides down to where she stood.
She looked up at him, the tip of her tongue moistening her lips before she spoke.
“Ambassador,” she said. “It’s so kind of you to take the trouble.”
He shook his head in a gesture he knew she would understand and reached for his pad. Other humans had noticed. There was a brief stir of conversation around the room, and several pointed glances. Bosch turned back to the woman, tilting his pad so the woman could see the screen.
What is your name?
“I am Miranda McLeod, Ambassador.” She carefully placed her drink down on a nearby table and turned back to face him. “I know that you like to be called Bosch.”
He clacked his beak, and then remembering, nodded. They weren’t all as accomplished as Davy. Her fingers had returned to playing with the necklace. She was unashamedly looking up and down the length of his tall bony frame.
“Don’t you get a little tired of these things, Ambassador? Always on show. Always on display.”
Bosch glanced around, locating Davy, who grinned and then turned away. He tapped out an answer on the pad.
I find them interesting.
“Hmmm, I suppose I can see that,” said the woman who called herself Miranda. “It must be very different from your home.”
Not that different. Some things.
Her fingers left the necklace and she moved her hand to hover near his forearm, then hesitating, withdrew it. Yes, she was definitely interested. He opened his nasal filters, trying to catch the scent of her, looking for that foretaste, but there was too much confusion in the multiple impressions flooding into his senses.
“I see,” she said.
There was an uncomfortable pause, and she glanced away, perhaps looking to see who might be watching.
Are you here alone?
The motion of the pad drew her attention back to where he wanted it. “Not exactly, Ambassador. I came with a friend, but he’s engaged in some business. I guess I was here to be decorative.” She pressed her fingers flat against the open expanse of skin above the neckline of her dress. “I don’t really have that much in common with most of the people here.” She smiled.
Are you bored?
“A little,” she said.
I have a room. We could go.
She looked up from the pad, nostrils slightly flared and swallowed. She moistened her lips again. Bosch could sense her sudden nervousness, the quick furtive glance around the room, the quickening of breath, the slight widening of the eyes and the pupils. These humans were so obvious about everything they did. He knew he had to play this charade through.
“Y-yes?” she said, hesitating, the half question there.
It is no problem.
She leaned in to read his response. He could taste her now, and his beak gave a little involuntary shiver, producing a small staccato noise. He clamped it shut, but she seemed not to have noticed.
“I really should…m-my friend…“
He had seen this little social dance so many times before. He waited while she scanned the room again and thought back to the first few times. At first, it had been new, interesting. He had thought it was something he could really exploit. He followed, observed, made the motions, barely understanding what it was they wanted from him. When it came, it had been like a revelation. Here, here, in that sweat-slicked, straining, grimacing act lay the key to ultimate exploitation. Everything this race did was so tied in to the coupling reflex, their advertising, their media, literature, art, everything that defined what they were. It was more than a simple drive. It was a definition of species. Then, the sense of victory had been complete. Once you know what defines a species, you know how to control and exploit it.
He tilted the pad at her again.
There is no problem. Come with me.
She glanced down at the pad, back at his face and then nodded.
It was a short walk to the elevators. As the doors slid shut, the sound of clinking glasses and the buzz of voices faded. No doubt, their sudden departure had sparked further hushed commentary among the masses, perhaps jealousy from a few. Miranda stood pressed into a rear corner of the car, watching him. He watched the lights marking their progress towards his floor. Davy would, no doubt, have already drawn his own conclusions and made his own arrangements.
Bosch held his jaw tightly shut, trying not to betray the sense of need growing within him. Soon.
He had noticed the taste only on the third encounter. That human had been near the point of fulfilment, the ugly strain visible upon his face, his neck standing out in cords, his breath fast and frantic. Bosch was observing closely, watching the contortions, the imminent release, when with a rush, the scent had invaded his senses. His attention had been distracted, following the hint, drinking it deep. Then, something totally unexpected happened. A sudden euphoric rush blossomed in the back of his head, overpowering his senses. His eye membranes had closed, his nasal filters flaring to beyond capacity, the cilia vibrating of their own accord. A high-pitched squeal issued involuntarily from his throats and he collapsed back onto the specially modified bed, washed in an ocean of contentment. He barely noticed that the human had reached his own release. Such a thing had never happened to Bosch before. He dismissed it as an aberration, brought about by the unusual atmosphere.
The next time, with a human female, it happened again, only with more intensity. Bosch was astounded. Even more astounding was the hunger that grew within him. He had to know more.
After those first few times, he employed Davy in his efforts. In the interest of research, he had told him. Davy had paid for someone to have sex with the alien creature. Davy had some trouble locating a human who was willing, but had finally managed to do so. The action had gone as expected, but the taste was missing. Bosch had tried to mask his disappointment. Some time later, he had tried to force an encounter.
Davy and his people expended much effort and expense covering up the ‘diplomatic incident.’ For several weeks after, Davy was cool and less than enthusiastic in the Ambassador’s presence. That too passed in time.
Little by little, Bosch came to realize that the attraction had to be there and natural. If it wasn’t, then nothing would work. Nothing could force the act.
The elevator slid to a stop, and the doors opened. Bosch beckoned Miranda forwards.
“Which room number?” she said, quietly.
He indicated with his fingers. Eyes watching the hallway carpet, clearly not daring to look at him, she followed. They reached the door, and he slid the electronic keycard into the lock and withdrew it, then held the door wide for her to enter. She ducked beneath his arm, stepping hesitantly into the room. Bosch followed, closing the door behind him. He knew they wouldn’t be disturbed – this was the alien’s room. He crossed to the adapted bed and perched at the end, looking at the woman. She stood nervously in the centre of the room. He beckoned her closer and pulled out the pad.
Perhaps a drink.
“Yes,” she said, moistening her mouth. “That’s probably a good idea.”
He motioned her in the direction of the mini-bar and watched, patiently as she fixed herself a drink and took a big swallow. Always there were these rituals.
“I wouldn’t normally do this,” she said, as much to convince herself as to convince him. This too, was part of the ritual. He’d seen it before. Finally, he stood, took the drink from her hand and slipped one strap down across her shoulder. He wondered briefly if she were attractive to her own species.
“No, wait,” she said.
Looking down into her eyes – more eye contact – he gently took her by the hand and led her towards the bed. Her resistance lasted a mere moment. Her lips slightly parted, she reached out with the fingers of one hand to trace the rough skin of his arm. Gently biting her lower lip, she ran the back of her hand across his mouth, feeling the hardness of his beak. She was trembling slightly as she reached with to slip the other strap from her shoulder. He could taste the beginning of the scent. Bosch closed his eye membranes briefly in anticipation as they played out the dance together. Later, after, in the still hours of the morning, Miranda slipped away, leaving Bosch parched, washed in the wave rush of taste, leaning back at repose. There was no conversation. There could be none.
The next morning, Davy met him at the bottom of the elevator. On the way down, Bosch had been considering his mission. There was no way he could leave now. There was so much more exploration to do. Anyway, his were a patient people. There was time – much more time, and the humans would be eager to please. The promises Bosch had brought with him were worth the wait to them. He could not return without the full picture. To do so would be to fail.
“Good morning, Ambassador. I trust you enjoyed your evening,” said Davy as Bosch stepped out of the elevator.
Bosch snapped his beak in assent.
“Good, good,” said Davy. “We want you to enjoy your evenings. We want you to enjoy all your evenings. It’s very important to us.”
There was something about Davy’s voice, something about the half, sly smile on Davy’s face that made Bosch pause. He considered for a long moment, and then dismissed it. No. They were only humans. They weren’t that clever.
Besides, there was the next reception, or party, or dinner or diplomatic event to look forward to. Already, the remembered foretaste was agitating his nasal cilia and his attention was wandering back to his need.
About the Author
Jay Caselberg was born in a country town in Australia and then traveled extensively while growing up. His first expedition was to Istanbul in 1969, where he lived for two years, and then later, in 1973 to Cambridge for a year.
Starting a BSc in Biochemistry in Sydney, he changed to a BSc Psych, then transferred to the University of Wollongong to do a BA Psych. There he discovered History and Philosophy of Science,which was to become his major and eventually, his Honours Degree. He transferred to the University of New South Wales in Sydney to pursue a PhD on a government scholarship, claiming from the start that his degree was simply practice to write large, cogent volumes of material. A short time before handing in his dissertation, he realized that academia wasn’t going to fulfill his ambitions and he stepped out into the workforce, joining a couple of IT companies in succession, until he found one that stuck.
Nine months later, he transferred for work to London. From that time on, he traveled extensively, throughout Europe and Africa. In 1996, he started writing with a passion. For nearly the next two years, he wrote full time and garnered his first few publications writing as James A.Hartley. In 1998, he rejoined the workforce and continued his travels through Asia, the Americas and more in Europe and Africa. At last count, he has visited about 72 countries.
Since then, he has continued to write and publish, primarily these days as Jay Caselberg. He currently still works in the consulting industry on international projects. He writes across many genres, both at short story and novel length, crossing the boundaries of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, and the Literary, generally with a dark edge. His short stories have consistently appeared in Year’s Best volumes and recommended reading lists.
About the Narrator
Mat Weller is the servant to a lovely family in eastern Pennsylvania. After his wife and kids go to sleep at night, he sometimes re-watches old episodes of X-Files on Netflix and other times retires to his basement booth where he records noises that get played on the Internet. Rumor has it he also makes delightful chocolate chip cookies.
Oh, and in October 2014, he beat Metroid II for the first time since 1991.
Mat had the honor of producing for Escape Pod from 2010 to 2016. He is also a graphic designer, an amateur voice actor, an amateur father, and he narrates a growing catalog of books for ACX.