During my days off I should have been doing research. Taking advantage of Denver University’s copious library and connections to other university libraries. And I had to create a primary research design and submit it to my advisor by the end of the month. And yet, I found myself preoccupied by my strange new friend. It was like something right out of an old fantasy novel.
I was especially fascinated by the fact that I had met someone who was intelligent and of a high level of consciousness yet not human. An entirely different species. I should be freaked out, overjoyed, or terrified. But I was mostly curious and could only think of Maya as a friend. I did not want to take advantage of her and treat her like a research project. To do this would be a kind of moral lapse on my part and I wanted to honor her trust in me.
It was also hard not to get caught up in the fantastic tales I read as a child about Atlantis and hidden kingdoms in a hollow Earth. It was tempting to think of Maya as some kind of princess; the lizard version of the Little Mermaid and I was not going to go there. I wanted to get to know Maya on her own merits.
When Sunday came I stood in my appointed place in the East Economy lot. Days were getting longer and warmer and there still some light in the sky. And there was Maya, in the same place I first saw her emerging from the shadows at the hotel’s foundation. She was wearing the usual hoody, jogger pants, mittens, and slippers.
“Hello Clara” she said clearly happy that I showed up.
Maya turned and pulled off her mittens. Her hand was scaled with four fingers and what looked like an opposing thumb. The tips of each digit were slightly bulbous which I assumed help her grip things. I wondered if Maya could climb on walls. Then she lifted the grate of a storm drain and beckoned me to follow her.
Glad I was wearing comfortable shoes I followed her down a set of rungs into a large drain pipe. Maya walked easily along the pipe while I had to stoop slightly. It was entirely dark and I used the small flashlight on my keychain so I could see where my feet were going.
Maya stopped at what looked like pallets piled against the wall and moving one aside slipped into an opening. We walked for what felt like hours although it was probably less than a mile along a larger tunnel which declined at a gentle slope. I assumed we were heading towards a place beneath the airport. As we walked I began seeing more pipes and painted signs on the wall. Finally, Maya stopped again at a door fitted snugly against the wall. There was no doorknob but there was a a lock. Maya slipped a key into the lock and pulled. The door swung open soundlessly and we entered.
I have to admit for a moment I wondered if I was doing something really stupid. I saw those sharp little teeth in her mouth and wondered if I was going to be a guest or I was going to be a snack.
I could see we were in what looked a a good sized utility closet. Maya turned on a battery-power LED lantern which illuminated the space and I could see Maya had created a kind of sanctuary for herself. In one corner was a small mattress covered with quilted moving pads, a small table, and piles of books and paper everywhere. It was relatively tidy and clean. There was a case of bottled water and a container full of fruit and root vegetables next to the bed.
Many of the books were of poetry but there was also young adult series, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit. In addition, Maya had accumulated quite a collection of comics and graphic novels with dates going back to the 1980s. I wondered what a collector might make of her stash.
Maya pointed to the container of produce and asked “Would you like something?”
I studied the fruit, it looked fresh.
“An apple, please.”
Maya handed me an apple and took an orange for herself. She bit into the orange, skin and all and made a happy sound as juice dripped onto the collar of her hoody.
The apple was surprisingly fresh; tart and crispy. Clearly wherever she was getting her food, it was high quality. Not the usual bland, slightly mealy fruit that was usually for sale at the airport.
“Is this where you live?” I asked Maya.
She shook her head. “This is my room. I come here to read. But I live with my family.”
“You mean like with your parents and siblings?”
“Yes and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. My extended family. My tribe.”
“Where does your family live? Do they live near here?”
This made sense, it was probably safer for them.
“Like how far below?” I asked.
“Below the humans,” she said.
I knew that DIA had something like four stories beneath the airport terminal.
“I have so many questions Maya. How do you live? How do you eat? How do you manage not to be seen by all the humans in the airport?”
“I do not have so many words, to say, Clara. My English isn’t very good but I can tell you in my thoughts.”
She came over to where I was sitting and put three fingers on the side of my head. Her fingers felt warm and dry. Then she picked up my hand and arranged my fingers on the side of her head.
This is much easier for me, Clara.
Can you hear me, too?
Yes I can hear your thoughts.
Like the Vulcan mind meld.
Yes, exactly like the Vulcan mind meld.
You watch Star Trek?
I love to watch Star Trek.
How do your people exist? Where are you from?
We’re from here. From the Earth like you.
How come no one knows about your existence? How do you stay hidden?
We evolved from reptiles just as humans evolved from early mammals. During the Ice Age we couldn’t survive on the surface and went below were we could stay warm. When we began to venture to the surface again, the humans feared us. They called us monsters and hunted us. We decided it was safer to stay below, to stay hidden. It is easier that way.
There are far few of us compared to humans. Centuries ago a terrible plague killed many of us and we have not recovered.
Still, you go into the airport terminal. There are guards everywhere. There are cameras everywhere.
Maya removed her fingers from my head and took a few steps back until her back was against the concert wall. She removed her hoody and joggers and slippers and stood very still. In just a few seconds I watched her fade and take on the color and texture of the wall. Except for her shadow Maya had disappeared.
“Camouflage,” I said “Like chameleons.”
“Better than chameleons.” said Maya. “We have far more control.”
This was a lot to absorb. I felt like my head might explode.
Are there other humans you talk to?
You are the only human I talk to but others in my tribe have relationships with a very humans. We are very careful about who we approach. Only those who are not afraid, who will keep our secret. There are humans we like very much who are friends. Our relationships are sometimes very rich and rewarding for us and our human friends. But we are very careful about who we allow to know of our existence.
I understand. I’m sorry humans are so cruel and fearful.
Humans are very social. It is your strength and it is your weakness. You do well enough with other humans but you don’t do well with other than humans. Even with your own kind you can be terribly cruel.
Is your species better? Are you more tolerant?
There are so few of us left, Clara. We choose to cooperate to stay safe. Perhaps if there were as many of us as there are humans we might go to war over our differences just as humans do. But I hope this never happens.
What do you call yourselves? Do you have a name for your people?
You could not pronounce our name. The closest might be “People of Scales.” Not very elegant I’m sorry to say.
Perhaps you could come up with a better name that I could pronounce. A name that is respectful? You have all these comics and graphic novels. There are lots of cool characters.
Hmm, maybe. I’ll think about it.
Thank you for answering my questions Maya and for being so patient with me.
Thank you for your company, Clara. Thank you for being respectful. I like your company.