Taste of India
by Xepher

It's a lot shorter than I would've liked, but I've been in the middle of a move for the past few weeks, and without internet for a couple of days too. I fudged a little on some of the geology too. Anyway, I hope it's an enjoyable story.

The mists move upon a gentle breeze, lush foliage behind the grey wisps
of moisture. He hears voices in the distance, whispering, shouting,
chanting, and calling.

"At the farthest edge of the world, when the Earth is one a second time,
there should you seek."

He turns, looking for the source of the voices. They're all around him,
in the mist itself. He catches a glimpse of movement through the fog. A
shape. A woman. He turns and looks. She calls to him. Not with words,
not exactly with thoughts. She calls him and he knows, that is enough.
He sees her, perched on a moss-covered log. She beckons. Her eyes
penetrate his soul. Staring. Staring intently. His mind is lost in the
fog and in her eyes.

Suddenly she moves. Abruptly turning, she leaps for him, her tail
straitening out behind her as she takes flight. She reaches towards him,
her hands becoming claws, her entire body turning feline in mid-flight.
Her claws reach for his face. Her face... In her face he sees sadness.
She roars as she approaches. Her claws flex as they prepare to tear
though his face. Johnathan McCormick springs upright in his bed.

The dream has been coming more frequently as of late. At first it was
just a simple jungle. Then came the woman. Later came the tiger.
Johnathan doesn't want to know what comes next. He turns in bed for
another hour before giving up and starting his day. He goes for
doughnuts at seven.

"Two glazed, a large coffee... and a bear claw please." His order is
filled. He pays and sits in the corner. He always sits in the corner,
never in the middle, always at the edge of any crowd. Johnathan likes it
that way.

A friend enters, Johnathan's coworker Austin. He sees Johnathan, and,
after ordering, sits down across the table from him.

"How goes it?" Austin opens.

"Not bad I suppose." The look on Johnathan's face says otherwise.

"Yeah, that's what you always say. What's wrong?"


"Don't give me that. Something's botherin' you. You look like you
haven't slept a wink in days. Come on, spill."

"It's nothin', just haven't been sleeping much lately."

"Bad dreams?"

"Not really, just... weird."

"What? Like purple monkeys attacking you with vanilla pudding via
orbital bombardment?"

"Heh... Not quite."

"Then what? Come on, I just got off a 12 hour shift in a guard shack, I
need an amusing story."

"Well, fine. I've been having this same dream for the past few weeks.
I'm in this jungle, and there's all this mist around. I hear voices
telling me to "seek" something that's "...on the edge of the world..."

"Well, it's not space monkeys, but I'll give you a five point six on the

"Heh, wait 'till I finish."

"Oh? There's more? Do tell."

"Well, after the voices, I see something through the mist. It's a woman.
Well, sorta. She's naked and standing there on this..." He's cut off.

"Ahhh! Now I get it. See, I told you. You just need to get a girlfriend.
It's been what, like 9 months since you last went out with anyone? No
wondering you're dreaming about naked chics in steamy jungles. So tell,
me, was she hot? I mean, you say no clothes, but what about..."

"Enough! Let me finish, will you? It's not like that. It's not sexual, ok?"

"Yeah, ok man, whatever you say." Austin's face says the opposite.

"Anyway... She's standing on this log, posed, looking at me. Her skin is
patterned, like a tiger. She's flicking her tail back and forth and she..."

"Bing bing bing! Houston, we have a problem. Tail?"

"Yeah, you know, like a tiger..."

"Bing Bing Bing! And, did I mention, "Bing!? I mean, whatever floats
your boat man, but I think you just redlined on the weird-o-meter."

"It's not like that! I told you, it's nothing like that. She's just
looking at me. Well, until she turns into a tiger and attacks me."

"Man, I don't know what you've been smoking, but you'd better lay off it
for a while."

"Just shut up and let me finish. Like I was saying, she leaps at me and
turns into a tiger in mid-air. But the really weird part..."

"Oh, you mean naked tiger girls in steamy jungles isn't weird enough?"
Johnathan looks at Austin with more than a slight hint of frustration in
his eyes. "Sorry, go on."

"But the really weird part is... She looks sad."

"Ok, then what?"

"Then I wake up, right before her claws reach me."

"Ok, so let me get this straight. You have a dream, which happens all
the time, where voices tell you to seek something. Then, in a hot,
steamy jungle, a naked tiger chic shows up, looks sad, and then attacks
you while morphing. And you say that there is absolutely no Freudian
implications at all to this?"

"Right. It's like she's calling me or something."

"Heh, dude, you either need to lay off the crack, or your need for
female companionship is way worse then I thought."

"Gimme a break, you know I won't even take aspirin. And I want a
girlfriend, but I just want to wait for the right one."

"Ok, ok. Fair enough. I'll back off. Anyway, I've gotta get going. I
need to get to bed, the sun's almost up!" Austin loves his nightshift
job. He gets up to leave. "I'll make sure to send all naked cat chics
your way." He says on his way out.

"Yeah, whatever man," Johathan says, "Whatever."

Johnathan isn't taking things as lightly as Austin. He feels that
something more is going on. He's right, although he doesn't know it yet.
Sometimes, things are exactly as they appear, and Johnathan is being
called by a woman resembling a tiger.

Johnathan lives in his own little world. Or so people tell him. He is
not the kind of person that goes to concerts, he doesn't hang out at
parties. He just sort of "is" and that's enough for him. He has his
friends, he works his job. He doesn't do much, but he's okay with that.
The thing that makes him different is not that he thinks something
important will happen to him, it's that he's right about it. It's
happening now and he's trying to wrap his mind around it.

He knows the woman. He feels like he knows her, but he doesn't know from
where. He's never met a girl like that before, but she seems familiar to
him. He mulls this thought about in his head while he works for the day.
When he returns home that evening, he has dinner. He watches television
for a while, but his mind isn't really on it. He decides to turn in
early. The dream comes again.

The dreams repeat for days. For weeks. For months. They become clearer,
stronger, more vivid. Johnathan begins to understand. This is the
turning point. Here Johnathan gains something he has never had before;
resolve. He takes two weeks vacation time from work and goes to visit an
old friend from college.

"Milo! How've you been?" He interrupts his friend in the middle of book.

"Johnathan? What're you doing here? I haven't seen you in years!"

"Yeah, I know. I'd say I've been keeping busy, but, in truth, I've been
kept busy."

They exchange more pleasantries and small talk, until Johnathan finally
broaches the subject and explains what he wants.

"So you want me to help you figure out where this mystical "end of the
world" place is?" Milo says it with marked skepticism.

"Yeah, I know it sounds crazy, but... well, you know everyone gets one
"get out of jail free card" in life, and I figured it was about time I
used mine."

"Yeah, but that doesn't work for the asylum!"

"Touché. Anyway, I don't care if it is crazy. Lots of people do crazy
things. I want to do this. If I don't find anything, then fine, but at
least I'll be satisfied, and maybe these dreams will go away."

"You know, most people would try to see a psychiatrist about this sort
of thing. It's a heck of a lot cheaper than a trip to "the end of the

"First of all, it's the "edge" of the world. And secondly, I hate
psychiatrists. Besides, he'd probably just tell me I was crazy. You're
telling me that for free."

"Heh, ok. Fine. So what is it you want me to do?"

"I want you to help me figure out where this place is. Or at least where
to start looking."

"Alright, fine. So what exactly am I looking for?" Milo said as he dug
out an atlas and a few other geography documents.

"Well, first of all, it's in a jungle, probably one with tigers, and the
voices said it was "at the edge of the world" so..."

"Well, tigers are native to Asia, especially the Indian sub-continent.

"Well, tell you what, let's just concentrate on the clues I actually
heard. This tiger woman didn't exactly look "native" to any part of the
Earth. So maybe it doesn't have to be a tiger habitat."

"Alright, well that leaves us with most of the tropics then."

"Ok, what about "the edge of the world' stuff. Anything ring a bell there?"

"Well, back when people though the world was flat, they always feared
they'd fall off the edge if they sailed too far. But the Earth's a
sphere, it just wraps around without an edge."

"Ok, how about "When the Earth is one a second time..." Any clue?"

"Earth is one... Earth is one... Maybe when we all live in peace or

"What about the "second time" thing?"

"Well, the whole Garden o' Eden thing could've been the first time."

"So I'm just supposed to wait until there's peace on Earth? No, I don't
buy that. Think alternate meanings. Maybe "Earth" means "ground" or
"dirt" or something."

"When the ground is one a second time... Maybe... Yeah, maybe that's it.


"Pangaea. The theory that in ancient times all the continents were
smashed together into one big supercontinent called Pangaea. Actually,
the accepted theory is that it happened several times. Pangaea I,
Pangaea II, etc. Maybe it means when Pangaea II was around. Yeah! And
the "edge" would be the edge of Pangaea itself!"

"No, I don't think so. If it is Pangaea, then "Earth" refers to ground,
not the planet. The "edge" is on the edge of the world, not the edge of
the ground."

"Well, it's your dream, but I'm telling you, the Earth, meaning the
planet floating in space, is round. It doesn't have an edge."

"Wait, what'd you say?"

"I said the Earth is round. No edge."

"No, you said "space"! The "edge" of space! The point on Pangaea II
closest to space!"

"Well, that'd be... Lemme see here. Yeah, here it is. It's right here,
pretty much in the middle of present day India. Heh, you even get your
native tigers. Maybe you're not entirely crazy after all."

"Told ya. Can I borrow your computer for a few minutes?"

"Sure, what're you gonna check?"

"I'm buying tickets."

"I resend my previous comment about your sanity."

And this is how it begins. Johnathan researches a bit about the area,
spends a large amount of cash at a guide service, and boards a plane for
India. The flight is long, the drive into the jungle longer. The guide
thinks Johnathan might be crazy, but doesn't care. He's getting paid
anyway. They arrive at the point on the map and set up camp.

After a few days of searching, Johnathan actually finds what he's
looking for. Or at least what he thinks he might be looking for, ancient
ruins, buried in a jungle untouched by man. No human on record has ever
seen them before. Johnathan enters and descends through level upon level
of ancient stone. The stone then gives way to metal, and the ancient
artifacts give way to mechanical devices. He goes deeper.

Estimating himself to be several thousand feet below the surface,
Johnathan returns for his equipment and gear. The next day he descends
again, this time with all of his expedition gear. Over the course of 2
days he reaches a depth that, by his estimate, is deeper than any other
structure on earth. It is at this phenomenal depth that he encounters
the main door. It looks like chrome, yet is somehow untarnished after
who knows how many millennia. He approaches it, and it opens
automatically. He enters.

Johnathan finds himself in what he eventually learns is a spaceport. A
very, very old spaceport.

"So you've come at last." She says.

Johnathan turns around. She is standing behind him, in the doorway he
just entered through.

"I followed you from the surface, I wanted to see if the door accepted
you before I greeted you." She informs him. "It has, so I welcome you to
the Gaian embassy... Or at least what's left of it."

Johnathan is stunned. He just stares. He stares at her form. Half-human,
half-tiger. "And all woman," he thinks to himself.

"Indeed I am." She answers. She is telepathic. He now hears her thoughts
in his head. "Hi." He says meekly, "I... have a lot of questions."

She explains everything to him, patiently answering his questions.
Johnathan learns that she is the sole surviving descendant from a group
of explorers that landed on Earth in the pre-Cambrian era. She's of a
race who call themselves "Gaians," a peaceful species that began
exploring the galaxy while the Earth was still a molten blob of liquid
rock. They landed on Earth all those eons ago and set up a base at the
highest point on the planet. This was done for the most efficient access
to space possible.

She continues her explanation, noting how her distant ancestors lost
contact with their home planet. They became stranded on the island of
Earth. At first, there were thousands of them, shape-shifters who could
mimic any shape. Over the years, the bloodlines grew thin. Some of the
shifting ability was lost, either through genetics, or though lack of
practice. In the more recent millennia, the remaining Gaians started
adopting shapes they saw around them, improvising and combining when
they could. Some even left and entered human society, or so it was said.

A few hundred years ago, when the British began to control and modernize
India, it became harder and harder to hide from humanity. The Gaians had
a policy of non-interference with native species. Confined to smaller
and smaller areas by the encroachment of humanity, many of the stranded
Gaians began to give up. They stopped having children, deciding to end
their specie's life on this planet. The woman standing before Johnathan
is the last of her kind on Earth. Jolina is lonely.

She explains things to him some more. "After my father died, about 15
years ago, I started getting very lonely. I started studying human
society more and more. Eventually I came across the old stories of
Gaians that rebelled and tried to live as humans. I figured such stories
were probably true, and I figured there was a chance some of them had
children. Apparently I was right."

"What do you mean?" He says.

Jolina just looks at him.

"You mean me?"

She nods gently. "Yes." She says, "One of your distant relatives was one
of my people. That's why I was able to contact you in your dreams, and
that's why the door opened for you."

"But why dreams? Why not just talk into my mind like you're doing now?"

"Your "ESP," as you might call it, is not strong enough. Your Gaian
bloodline is too diluted for that to work over great distance, even with
the amplifier in this base. Only when you're asleep is your mind open
enough for me to get through."

"Well, why did you just tell me where to go in my dream? Why the naked
image of yourself, and the voices with riddles? And then you attacked
me, turning into a tiger in mid-air!"

"Heh, it's still your dream. I'm only able to influence it, not control
it. I could only send thought-shapes. I tried to keep it simple. This
place, myself, that was it. Your brain interpreted those for you. Your
brain made the riddles, and the image of me. You said I attacked you


"I'm sure one of your psychiatrists would have something to say about
that," She grinned, "and that whole "naked" bit." Johnathan blushed.

"Well, everyone's always telling me I need to get a girlfriend." And
with that, the romance begins. They talk for hours. Johnathan learning
all about the Gaian race. He learns to improve his telepathic skills. He
even learns to shape-shift, slightly. Jolina learns about the reality of
human society, the details that you don't get though broadcasts,
databases, and research. She learns what "doughnuts" are. Johnathan only
has two days left of his vacation time. He won't even remember this fact
until sometime next month. By then he won't care one bit.

A couple of months later, Milo and Austin each receive a letter that
reads as follows:

I found what I was looking for and I'm happy. I even found a girl. Her
name is Jolina and we were married last week. Don't worry about me, I've
never felt better in my life. I've learned many things, but the one that
sticks with me, is that sometimes, it pays to listen to the voices in
your head.

Your friend,

"And Jolina" is scrawled beside Johnathans signiture.

Attached to the bottom half of the page is a picture of two grinning
newlyweds, tails twisted together in an embrace.



Copyright 2002 by Xepher. If you want to post this anywhere else, please ask for permission first. Thank you.

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